New Jersey’s Great Pop Culture Moments Vol.71: The Oranges

The Oranges
Our featured writer N.J Holden is back and this time around 
he’s providing his thoughts on the 2011 film The Oranges
This is what happened when House and Gossip Girl visited The Oranges (Well, sorty of). With fall comes not only the changing of the leaves and temperature, but a crop of films, from the ones that litter the multiplexes like poppies on a bagel to the smaller fare that fly under the radar. The Oranges has just opened in limited release in theatres scattered about the Garden State, and one should think that New Jersey would be proud. An acclaimed cast led by everyone’s favorite angry doctor House and a semi-serious look at the middle aged would be cause for celebration. But aside from the cast, the film is probably the first pro-Jersey film NOT filmed in Jersey. As witnessed by the end credits, New York stands in for nearly the entire film save a fleeting glimpse of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and the nice hand-painted sign that welcomes the visitors to the Oranges. But regardless, one should find time to check out this rare oddity.

David and Paige (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and Terry and Cathy (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) are neighbors on the same block in the NJ suburbs of the title, both well to do and constantly enthralled with the latest gadgets on the market. But when Nina, Terry and Cathy’s free-spirited, nomadic daughter, Nina (Gossip Girl Leighton Meester) returns home after a failed relationship, everyone’s happy existence is thrown into chaos. David and Paige’s daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) is embittered by her sheltered life and fleeting dreams of being a designer and their son Toby (Adam Brody), who was thought to be a perfect fit for Nina, is conflicted when the free spirit instead finds a kinship and romance with the older, but miserable, David. What ensues is a comedic look at how marriages survive and wither as well as an insightful look into how happiness eludes people in favor of normalcy and comfort.

New Jersey (despite not being shot in NJ) is shown in an appeal not seen in a certain shore show or long-off-the-air Mafia cable drama. The Oranges is an idyllic, decorative suburb with manicured lawns and a Rockwell-esque appeal that demonstrates that the Garden State is far more beautiful than it is given credit for, and kudos to the production team for finding locations that fit the state without making it too much of a distraction. It is odd that the film, while nowhere near a big-budget noisemaker, could not be filmed at least in a nearby location such as Montclair or Verona, towns that could easily fill in for the Oranges. But the film survives due to the appeal and witty exchanges between the characters, and Meester actually does a lot to distance herself from the bitchy society girl on Girl and makes you feel for and against her devil-may-care character who is far from the typical whore found in such fare, just a girl falling into unfortunate situation after situation. Another standout is Keener, a wife trying to (and ultimately, in hilarious fashion) put on a brave smile while her happily framed life falls apart all around her.

So, instead of the usual fare that is soon quickly forgotten just as soon as it has arrived, give The Oranges a view, a great Jersey film that isn’t and wasn’t at the same time.

by N.J Holden

New Jersey’s Great Pop Culture Moments Vol.67: I Wanna Hold Your Hand

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I Wanna Hold Your Hand: Protests, Police, Prostitutes, and PAUL!!!

Some DVDs linger on my “must watch list,” but for one reason or another keep getting passed up in favor of repeat viewings of Mr. Mom and Nightmare on Elm Street. Those things happen. I’m rendered powerless when I turn on the TV and see Psycho on, but when there’s a hundred movies that I’ve been meaning to watch for years and I still haven’t followed through, then that’s a problem. Recently, I finally watched one that has literally been on my list for more than 5 years.

Talk about underrated! I hereby add 1978’s I Wanna Hold Your Hand to the most underrated comedies ever. While growing up I never even knew about this film. It didn’t really play on TV all that much and it didn’t make a ton of money at the box office either. Considering all the movies that have gone unnoticed in theaters and eventually became legendary on VHS and DVD, by rights this should be one of them, but it’s not. As we take a closer look you can be baffled along with me as to why I Wanna Hold Your Hand doesn’t always show up on those lists of classic rock and roll comedies.

There’s several reasons why you’ll want to check this movie out. What’s most noteworthy is that the film was written and directed by Robert Zemeckis and get this – it was produced by Steven Spielberg! If they aren’t the movie Mega Powers, I don’t know who is! Secondly, my notion of the film before I watched it was that it was probably some sort of Beatles biopic like a more straight laced version of Spinal Tap. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. The Beatles merely serve as the catalyst for the teenage characters to get to the Beatles legendary performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Remember when Clark Griswold said “Getting there is half the fun, you know that!” Well that is definitely the case and the Beatles take a back seat to all the craziness that happens along the way.

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I Wanna Hold Your Hand has more in common with a teen period piece like American Graffiti than a straight up rock and roll film. It’s a time capsule of Beatlemania. Naturally it will have more of an effect on you if you lived through the ’60s, but that didn’t phase me one bit. The cast is fantastic and it includes Nancy Allen who makes out hardcore with Paul McCartney’s bass, the late Wendie Jo Sperber in her film debut (you may remember her from Bosom Buddies and as Mary McFly’s sister in Back to the Future) in her funniest role, Marc Mclure (Marty McFly’s brother), and Eddie Deezen who played the geek Eugene in the Grease films.

In 1999, the KISS version of this film was released as Detroit Rock City. That’s not an exaggeration. DRC is one of my favorites, but I couldn’t believe how much that film borrowed from I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Oh, and last but not least…the film opens in Maplewood, New Jersey! 

New Jersey’s Great Pop Culture Moments Vol.65: The Fighter

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Micky and Dicky stare across the ring in awe of 
Micky’s formidable opponent in 2010’s The Fighter

Nearly 2 years after The Fighter hit theaters, both of its stars are still enjoying huge success. This summer, Mark Wahlberg scored big with Ted and obviously Christian Bale tossed the batarang out of the park with his powerhouse portrayal of Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. Previous to those blockbusters, as “Irish” Micky Ward and his half brother Dicky Eklund, Wahlberg and Bale give us the performances of their careers in The Fighter.

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Most of The Fighter was filmed in Massachusetts, but one early pivotal scene was set in Atlantic City. Micky, a welterweight, was set to fight an opponent in his weight class, but a middleweight fighter who was 20 pounds heavier than him replaced the original opponent at the last minute. *SPOILER* Micky gets his ass beat. Micky’s actual match did indeed go down at the first casino hotel in Atlantic City: Resorts, but IMDB does not list Atlantic City as one of the filming locations so I doubt that this scene was filmed in New Jersey. They just merely slapped the Resorts turnbuckle on the ring and BAM! We’re magically whisked away down to Atlantic City in no time.

As far as I’m concerned, the film should’ve won best picture, but it did take home both the awards for best supporting actor and actress. Amy Adams isn’t hard to look at either.

Drive-In and Fly-In Theaters In New Jersey

Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. (a sales manager at his father’s auto parts company according to Wikipedia) opened the first Drive-In move theater under the name Park In-Theaters, Inc on June 6th, 1933 on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, NJ. Usually each car paid under a dollar for admission, vastly less than the astronomical prices for movies today. You can read the history of Hollingshead and his theater via this link at the History Channel’s website.

The mid-’80s saw the decline of the Drive-In movie theater. Hope is not lost though. Within the last few years the dine-in trend is coming back, so maybe we’ll see the resurgence of the Drive-In theater?

At the height of the Drive-In craze, Newark, NJ had one of the largest Drive-Ins in the country, but things started to get out of hand. In 1948 Ed Brown’s Fly-In and Drive-In opened in Asbury Park, NJ. Planes landed at a nearby airfield and were allowed to taxi to the back row which was designated for planes.Sounds like Disney’s Cars world, doesn’t it? This outdoor theater had space for 500 cars and 25 airplanes. The formula must have proven successful since another generic Fly-In/Drive-In opened in Belmar in the ’50s.

Considering that I’m not a huge fan of the revamped Dine-In theater gimmick, chances are, the Drive-In Theater wouldn’t appeal to me much either. Apparently, many people in my family managed and worked at a drive-in theater in New Jersey for several years and during high school and college I worked at the local theater as well, so I have a unique perspective. Ultimately, I’d rather be on my couch relaxing while watching a blu-ray and sipping some iced tea and chowing down on food that a waitress doesn’t have to interrupt the movie to bring over to me.

If you’re feeling nostalgic and you want to take the fam out for a night at the movies, why not bypass the usual 24-plex and pay a visit to The Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, New Jersey!
http://www.delseadrive-in.com/

*You can find some of the information in this post at http://www.driveintheater.com/drivhis1.htm#oddities

Jersey Shore Shark Attack…Finally!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eACzpD2FNos?rel=0]

That title might seem completely insane, but it’s not what you think. I’m not saying “Damn, FINALLY someone came up with the idea to merge movies like JAWS and Piranha with MTV’s JERSEY SHORE type buffoonery. I’ll reiterate: that’s NOT what I was saying. When I say finally, it means that it took so damn long to get a trailer for what at first glance looks be quite a piece of shit. Now, when I say possible…there’s like a 6% chance that it will totally kick ass. OK, I’m exaggerating. The truth is, it looks terrible in the most awesome way possible and I’m glad that we finally have a trailer after nearly 2 years of it’s initial announcement.

In the trailer we see all the typical stereotypes of how the country views people from New Jersey. Actually, we aren’t all mongoloids. I speak normally and don’t sleep in a tanning bed. These errors are inconsequential when I think about what an event this movie will be for me. I’m always excited to watch an unintentionally funny, shlocky horror movie takes place in New Jersey. As you can see, the clones of the Jersey Shore cast get guns and hunt sharks at the end of the trailer. The effects are terrible so I’ll be going in with extremely low expectations.
The casting bemuses me though. If I was a kid on Twitter I’d probably tweet this in reaction to the trailer: “That moment when you realize Joey Fatone is in Jersey Shore Shark Attack.” I was taken aback for a moment when I realized Fatone shows up on the scene. Including the heftiest member of N’Sync, all the main stars were born in Brooklyn, NY. What the hell is that crap? The casting director should’ve taken care that they hired Jersey born actors and actresses considering there’s a ton of them. It would’ve made it more authentic. One huge misconception is that people from Jersey do NOT talk like they are from Brooklyn unless they are from Brooklyn and moved to Jersey. We aren’t all Tony Danza clones here contrary to popular belief.
Joey Fatone, Jack Scalia, Paul Sorvino, Tony Sirico, and hold up a second…WILLIAM F*CKING ATHERTON!?!?! NOW I’M IN. I’M SO F’N IN. I’m front and center for what just turned into a magnificent piece of entertainment. Sold. *SPOILERS* Vinny from Jersey Shore plays a news reporter who spills the beans that Joey Fatone’s character GETS EATEN BY A SHARK! I bet the shark is TEARIN’ UP HIS HEART as we speak. No release date has been announced yet, so until then “Bye, Bye, Bye!”

THUMBWRESTLER By Ro-Beast Rollie

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by Ro-Beast Rollie via this link at Beauty and the Robeast
While perusing my friend Ro-Beast Rollie’a blog Beauty and the Robeast, I came across something I just had to share with you. As a huge fan of 2008’s The Wrestler, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Rollie’s MS Paint work which transformed The Wrestler into The Thumbwrestler. This is the type of genius stuff that makes my day. If only I could get my hands on a custom WWF LJN style thumb wrestler Mint In Box of Randy “The Ram” Robinson! The Ro-Beast can certainly work some MS Paint magic, but I doubt he can make that one happen! Excellent work Rollie – fresh as monkey’s breath brutha! 

Friends With Benefits (2011) Review

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Dylan and his father, pants-less, eating in Newark Liberty Int’l Airport

Friends With Benefits was just an excuse to maximize Timberlake’s on-screen butt time. Will Gluck really sold out. I expected a lot more out of him. Many of you are probably thinking, “Who the hell is Will Gluck?” and rightfully so. Unless you are film fanatic or someone who pays close attention to film director’s resumes, that name probably passed you by.

Sold out sounds so cliche, but it’s what Gluck did to a degree. The director was hired to make a larger budget movie with big name stars. Too many writers spoil the script and in the case of Friends With Benefits, it took 3 people to write the story, and Gluck and 2 other writers to write the screenplay. Seriously? And even with all those writers, it was all just a bunch of romps in the sack.

If a movie company was throwing obscene amounts of cash at me to make a movie exactly the way they wanted it, I’d do it too. Gotta make a living, right? Gotta pay for that new hot tub. Gotta buy that hot new Acura NSX. Gotta build that reputation in order to make more Hollywood crap. You go Gluck! I genuinely loved Fired Up, his cheerleading comedy, and Easy A with Emma Stone, but in terms of freshness I give this an Easy F. His previous films were creative and current, yet Friends is exactly what you’d expect from a romantic comedy…not much.

Friends really wants to mean something to the teens and twenty-somethings of this generation, but it’s ultimately just corporate garbage. It’s another “insert hot young star here,” and “insert another sex scene there.” Why was there 2 flash mob scenes? TWO!!! The film’s finale desperately wanted to be poignant and as memorable as when Lloyd Dobler held up his boom box in Say Anything. There’s a reason why you know that scene even though you may never have seen the movie and that’s because because it was a meaningful scene that reflected the time and has since been parodied to death. Is wooing a girl via flash mob going to be looked at the same way 20 years down the road?

Mila Kunis is certainly hot and Timberlake is truly talented but commingling them didn’t ignite any spark. Much like the embarrassing Love and Other Drugs, if you watch Friends With Benefits in mega high speed it would just look like a series of awkward sex scenes. If your Grandparents saw this movie they’d say “What are ya watchin’, porno ya pervert?!?!” It’s the typical Hollywood formula featuring a hot male actor to grab the girl moviegoers and a sexy young female star to lure in dopey guys like me. They had me at Jackie from That ’70s Show. Boy did I fall for it.

It wasn’t all boner pissing though, Friends with Benefits did deal with some serious issues. Although I had a barf bag next to me the whole time, I appreciate how the Alzheimer’s angle was handled. Unfortunately, it seemed conveniently shoehorned into the script in order to give some human qualities to its characters. The best scene of the movie is when Timberlake takes his pants off and joins his father (who’s afflicted with Alzheimer’s and has his pants off) at a restaurant for a steak dinner in Newark Liberty International Airport. I can watch Mila Kunis stare blankly into space and be content for an hour, but this scene actually had some depth.

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DYLAN: “You have a boat?!?!”
TOMMY: “I live in Jersey and I ain’t takin’ no ferry…unless it’s out to dinner and a show!”

I always enjoy Woody Harrelson and this time around was no exception. He excels in random supporting roles and here he played a gay online sports journalist who constantly advertised his love of men’s genitalia. He also takes his boat across the river back to New Jersey where he lives which kicks ass because he doesn’t have to sit in traffic.

Friends with Benefits should be a sequel to The Breakup where Vaughn and Aniston really do just become friends after their breakup and one thing leads to another and they each lose their jobs at different times while the other is still working and since they aren’t dating anyone they have to angle to get put onto the others health benefits. Listen, it may sound ridiculous now, but when Universal green-lights it in 2 years you’ll be having deja-vu. But, in all seriousness, I spent the whole movie wishing that it turned into the kooky love story of Andy Samberg and Emma Stone who actually appeared in the beginning of the film. It would’ve been so much more Glucking awesome.

A Jersey Christmas Review

PhotobucketRemember those family gatherings when someone at the dinner table would caution everyone not to discuss politics and religion? Well the 2008 film A Jersey Christmas obviously didn’t heed that warning because its abundant racial and moral commentary spoils this festivus for the rest of us.

My intention is always to give credit to indie filmmakers, not to needlessly rip them like some a-hole critics who know nothing about films anyway. Making an actual film that doesn’t look like it was slapped together accidentally by a 3 year old on his parents iPhone is a huge undertaking, and even if the movie sucks, most young directors and cast deserve an A for effort at the very least. If I was only judging it on effort, A Jersey Christmas would receive and A+ with a possible induction to the National Honor Society. Unfortunately, it boils down to one question for me: Will I ever want to watch it again? The answer is no, although, if some tweaks were made I’d make it part of my annual Christmas viewing tradition.

Clerks influence on indie filmmakers based in New Jersey is apparent since the story centers around a group of Christmas store employees. Kevin Smith would have a field day writing a film about this place because it’s way more diverse than the local Quick Stop. Coincidentally, mostly all of The Xmas-O-Rama employees don’t celebrate Christmas because of their various religious backgrounds. There’s a Jewish guy, a reformed Jewish girl, an Indian girl, an Arab, and a former Christian gay male who graduated from Rutgers with a masters in American Literature because he “likes to read.” The gist of the story focuses on how Christmas is viewed in the eyes of non-Christian twentysomethings. The group discovers that even though they express jealousy and frustration about the holiday, they are all brought together by the Christmas spirit.

As described on IMDB, “degenerate gambler” Mike Malcolm (James Villemaire) is in deep debt (or shit as we say here in Jersey) and owes a couple of thugs a lot of money. He runs a Christmas store to try to recoup some cash to pay his debts, but winds up screwing his employees out of several weeks pay. The action takes place on Christmas Eve when he demands that the store stay open until midnight to intercept last minute shoppers. Malcolm escapes to a poker game to try to win back some of his losses while the diverse crew at the Christmas store works late and hashes out their differences in religion, thoughts on Christmas, and even share some romantic moments.

I guess I was expecting something with a little more wacky hijinks. Often, the film teetered on the verge of being fun, but never officially made the jump. Sadly, the dialogue is so dumbed down and the characters refer to being Jewish and Arabic excessively. A Jersey Christmas would’ve benefited from making the racial/religious differences a minor theme instead of the main attraction. Regardless of these flaws, the cast is surprisingly natural and talented for a bunch of predominantly unknown actors. Anitha Gandhi and James Villemaire’s performances resonated with me.

Villemaire, who seems to be attempting to channel a young Mickey Rourke or Bruce Willis in this film, also co-directs with Eric Weber. Weber wrote the film, but I think it should’ve stayed on paper rather than been brought to life as a movie. This is the type of film that could be shown in college classes studying religious or racial tolerance; not so much the light hearted Christmas movie based in Jersey that I was hoping for. Ultimately, there really aren’t any similarities to Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but there should’ve been. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing a Christmas styled knockoff of Clerks. In that case the racial and religious references would be welcome. Snoogans.

What keeps me from ripping A Jersey Christmas is the fact that the film isn’t necessarily funny, but it’s not heart wrenching or dramatic either. Being middle of the road is it’s best attribute, since it would’ve totally lost my attention if it got bogged down in too much drama. This is one film you should only sink your time into if you just dig indie movies, or you have a serious obsession for all things Jersey like The Sexy Armpit does.

Since the production company, Tenafly Films, is named after a city in New Jersey, they not only filmed  on location in Bergen County, NJ but they also infused plenty of Jersey shout-outs into the movie. Among others there were mentions of Garden State Plaza Mall, Kearny, Hackensack, and the Elmwood Park Diner.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-irEXVALD8]