DVD Tuesday: ‘Easy A’ and ‘Family Guy: It’s a Trap’

by W. Andrew Powell

Emma Stone stars in Easy A

Emma Stone stars in Easy A

Coming out this week on DVD and Blu-ray, just in time for Christmas: Emma Stone stars in the high school comedy, Easy A; Seth MacFarlane leads another Star Wars parody in Family Guy: It’s a Trap; plus a look at Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Easy A
Starring: Emma Stone, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Bynes, Cam Gigandet, Malcolm McDowell, Penn Badgley, Patricia Clarkson, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church
Director: Will Gluck

Rated: 8/10

There were no less than four major high school teen comedies and dramedies at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but none were quite so notable as director Will Gluck’s Easy A.

Starring Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast, the film is a send-up of all the angsty teen films that have come before, but with a spark of originality that is fanned and set blazing thanks to its lead actress.

With stand-out performances by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, as Olive’s parents, and Malcolm McDowell and Thomas Haden Church as teachers at her school, the film is based loosely on The Scarlet Letter, which the film references freely and frequently.

Olive is an average, unknown student at a California school, but she gains instant stardom and infamy when a small lie about her weekend leads her best friend, and the rest of the school, to believe she slept with a college student. From that moment on, the school thinks she’s both incredibly cool and maybe a little dirty, and the local chapter of Saved-type Christians are ready to condemn her soul to Hell.

That’s not the end of it for Olive though. When she realizes she can make herself and other people popular at school, she agrees to pretend that she had sex with one of the school’s ostracized closet dwellers, who just wants to get the guys at school to leave him alone.

The lies begin to snowball from there, and among the guys who know the truth, they discover they can make a name for themselves by buying Olive off with gift cards, which she accepts in exchange for a kind of notoriety. At the same time, Olive has dressed the part, taking on the persona people expect of her to become some kind of reviled celebrity at school. Olive just has to decide if the notoriety is worth it when the lies start to crumble, and the boy of her dreams might be within arms reach.

Elements of Easy A are unmistakably a little dark and dirty, but the brilliance of Easy A is that it plays its hand with light-hearted amusement. Everything about the film shines, including Stone who is absolutely radiant as this unique girl with a vision for social freedom that means she can sleep with anyone she wants to, even if she isn’t actually sleeping with anyone.

The supporting cast provides a perfect springboard for Stone, and the film has a range of wonderful performances. In the end though, Stone is the star and there’s no missing her on screen.

Admittedly, Easy A might not be the perfect teen comedy, but it is fun, full of wit and charm, and one of the best comedies to come out this year.

At press time a review copy was unavailable, but the film is out this week and includes a number of special features.

Family Guy: It’s a Trap
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mike Henry, H. Jon Benjamin, Dee Bradley Baker, Patrick Stewart, Carrie Fisher
Director: Peter Shin

Rated: 6/10

If you’re a Star Wars fan, the title of Seth MacFarlane’s latest parody might remind you of Admiral Ackbar’s famously funny moment from The Empire Strikes Back, but after reading the opening crawl for Family Guy’s It’s a Trap, I’m more inclined to think the title is some kind of warning.

Unless MacFarlane was just trying to be funny in some backhanded way, he’s happy to warn fans in the opening crawl that this outing in the Star Wars universe is not exactly his team’s best work. He actually suggests Family Guy only made a third Star Wars parody again because Fox forced them to, but whether it’s a joke or a real warning, the simple problem is that this retelling is no better or worse than any of MacFarlane’s other Star Wars parodies. Once again MacFarlane and crew stick all too closely to the original storyline and deviate from their course only when they have a really clever zinger, and that’s definitely not often enough.

“Starring” the cast of Family Guy, and a few other familiar faces from some of MacFarlane’s other shows, It’s a Trap basically takes Star Wars a little too seriously and forgets to have some fun along the way, although it does offer some of the show’s best animation.

Perhaps the writers and Mr. MacFarlane could have learned something from co-star Seth Green’s hilarious visits to the Star Wars universe in his series, Robot Chicken. Given the amount of time the writers poked fun at the rivalry between MacFarlane and Green, I would have thought they might have also taken some inspiration from Green’s show, but I guess that was hoping for too much. Either that or Fox really is a slave-driving corporate overlord that just needed to give Family Guy a little more room to be creative.

If you boil it down though, It’s A Trap is funny enough to be watchable as long as you’re a fan of both Star Wars and Family Guy.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Frank Langella, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon
Director: Oliver Stone

Michael Douglas returns to one of his most well-known roles in a film about corporate greed, and where it has come over the last two decades.

Reprising his role as the corporate schemer Gordon Gekko, the film picks up as the Wall Street trader is released from prison and tries to warn the American financial market that it’s headed for a crash. Of course, no one is willing to believe him, and as he tries to deal with this he is also trying to make friends with his daughter Winnie, played by Carey Mulligan.

Meanwhile, Jacob, played by Shia LaBeouf, suspects that his Wall Street mentor’s death was somehow caused by a hedge fund manager, but he doesn’t know what he can do. When he goes to Gordon for help, the former convict agrees to help him with his problem if Jacob will help him get close with his daughter again.

Reviewers and critics have both praised and assaulted the film, which is a rare sequel for director Oliver Stone.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was one of a hand full of critics who gave the film a good review, but even he points out one of the film’s flaws. “It’s an entertaining story about ambition, romance and predatory trading practices,” Ebert wrote, “but it seems more fascinated than angry. Is Stone suggesting this new reality has become embedded, and we’re stuck with it?”

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