Rent: The Musical Rocks as Hard as Ever

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Rent: The Musical Rocks as Hard as Ever
A review of the film compared to the Broadway show.

Mark J. Lehman
A&E Editor

Originally Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The screen is pitch black as small, insignificant titles fade in. There's nothing flashy here -- only a palpable anticipation. And when the familiar block letters that spell out "Rent" come on screen accompanied by the almost universally-known intro to arguably Broadway's most popular song, "Seasons of Love," those who have seen the live show feel that certain flutter in the pits of their stomachs.

Thankfully, even with a few hitches, the film version of this generation's greatest musical hits way more than it misses, making it a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours. The film allows those audience members who missed out on the show to enjoy the story with almost the entire original Broadway cast.

For those who have been living in a cave the last 10 years, the story of "Rent" revolves around roommates Mark (Anthony Rapp), an aspiring filmmaker, and Roger (Adam Pascal), an aspiring musician, as they and fellow Bohemian artists struggle to live the way they want while coping with AIDS, which half the characters have, and fighting landlords over rent in a run-down section of New York called Alphabet City.

Director Christopher Columbus -- famous for "Home Alone " as well as the first two "Harry Potter" films -- brings this adaptation to the screen with his usual lack of creativity and flair, but luckily for him, the story is so incredible and emotional that it overtakes any flaws in direction. Plus, writer Stephen Chbosky, who penned another of our generation's great stories, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," crafts a taut adaptation of the original story by making a few small changes that help the transition from theatre to film, such as changing much of the dialogue to spoken word rather than singing.

However, aside from the elaborate sets, the film looks very much like someone took a camera to the musical and shot. The staging and cinematography are all reminiscent of the stage show and often seem forced on screen where in live theatre it would be perfectly acceptable. Luckily, the movement is very visceral and keeps things entertaining.

As for the acting, most of the players make the transition from theatre to film with ease. Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) and Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) in particular play incredibly well off each other, and their contagious charm and charisma easily infect the audience. Pascal's performance as Roger, though, is somewhat less appealing, as most of his closeups show him more confused than anything else.

For lovers of the show, the film might disappoint slightly, but not nearly enough to fail to entertain or affect the emotions.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan:]
From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my News articles.
More than "Just Voices"
Week of events and speakers comes to a close.

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Friday, November 11, 2005

The fifth annual Bellarmine Forum runs through Saturday. The Loyolan highlights a presentation on Middle East relations.

At noon on Monday, a 31-year teaching veteran wearing a yarmulke stepped to a podium in front of a full house in University Hall 1000.

Arthur Gross-Schaefer, an LMU professor of business law and ethics, began the Bellarmine Forum presentation titled "Towards Peace in the Middle East: A Little Less Finger Pointing and A Little More Cooperation" with a warning for all in attendance.

"Monologues are dangerous. That's not how you create peace. You must share each person's story. My goal is dialogue."

A member of Rabbis for Human Rights as well as a former aid to a member of the Israeli Parliament, Gross-Schaefer has recently visited Gaza during the preparations for the disengagement. Upon completion, there will no longer be an Israeli presence in Gaza. While there, he was able to take a tour of the security wall from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. He spoke of the unique perspective he gained from the trip and shared his thoughts on Israel-Palestine relations during the presentation.

"Israel is fearful that many countries would like to wipe [them out]," Gross-Schaefer explained. He continued by stating the Palestinian sentiment that "when the Israelites were being oppressed, they came and settled on our land."

He then introduced Nonie Darwish, an Arab-American woman who spoke about her experience growing up in the Middle East and shared methods she felt would bring peace to the region.

"I can support Israel and still love and support my culture of origin. That is the right attitude for peace," Darwish said. "Diversity, pluralism and tolerance should not just be virtues in the West, but in the Middle East as well."

Some students and teachers felt the speakers presented both interesting and informed perspectives.

Esther Dzida, a junior sociology major, was intrigued by the hope exuded by the speakers.

"I liked how even though they brought up all the conflict and danger many people live with in [the Middle East], they also emphasized optimism for the future and resolve toward peace between these two group of people," Dzida said.

Gamlin anticipates a continued openness among students during the rest of the Forum.

"I hope the dialogue will continue well beyond this year's Bellarmine Forum, which is already becoming a great success," he said.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan:]
From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
This Poultry Packs a Punch
Film Review: "Chicken Little"

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Monday, November 7, 2005

To get an idea of how the new film "Chicken Little" plays out, imagine Zach Braff during the first season of "Scrubs" -- somewhat cowardly, slightly effeminate, incredibly wacky and unbelievably clumsy -- with glasses, feathers and a penchant for interspecies dating. Now just add a baseball game and an alien invasion, and you've got the formula for a hit flick to get a struggling animation division off to a good start.

At least, that's what the execs at Disney's now Pixar-less animation studios think.

While I applaud the effort, the movie ends up being such a massive smattering of pop culture references and pieces of other films that, though I laughed, I was left wondering exactly what had just happened to me.

Let's be different and original and start at the beginning. The curtain comes up, and the narrator, who we never hear from again after this introduction, runs through the stereotypical movie opening sequences, such as the storybook and even the famous "Lion King" exposition when Rafiki calls all of the animals together. The narrator ends up rejecting all of these ideas in favor of a more unique beginning, and this is supposed to be the objective of the rest of the film as well. Sadly, mission unaccomplished.

Within five minutes, we find out it's just another Disney character with a daddy problem. Think about some of the other Disney flicks you've seen. In "The Little Mermaid," "Pocahontas" and "Aladdin," Ariel, Pocahontas and Jasmine all had overbearing fathers forcing them to get married even though they fell in love with a different guy from the wrong side of town, so to speak. Cinderella's dad married some nasty witch (with a capital 'B') before he died and left her stuck with the wicked stepmother. Hell, even Simba, "The Lion King," had to crawl out of his father's shadow before he took the throne. C'mon Disney, let's get some fresh material instead of rehashing the same stuff you were doing more than 50 years ago.

Luckily, the target audience for the Giant Mouse changes cycles about every three years, so they can afford to do this, but they have to make sure they remember that parents have to sit through this crap, too. I guess that's the reason for so many of the jokes about Barbra Streisand and Gloria Gaynor.

Don't get the wrong impression, though. Sure, it lacks originality both in its theme and its plot. (The alien invasion is harshly reminiscent of this summer's "War of the Worlds." A word to the wise: if you're going to rip off movies, make sure that they're actually good; otherwise it's like adding water to an already diluted concoction of nastiness.) Yet somehow, "Chicken Little" still pulls off charming. It's like a puppy that poops all over the carpet but still manages to be so cute that you can't help but coo as it eats your new shoes.

Most of this sweet goodness comes from the voice talent and the animation that goes with it. Braff has the perfect adolescent/pre-pubescent nasally voice for the title character, and Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn as Abby Mallard (Ugly Duckling) and Runt of the Litter, respectively, seem as though they were talking animals in another life -- their performances are that spot-on. Add to this the Brooklyn-accented Garry Marshall as Little's father, Buck Cluck, and a host of cameos including Patrick Warburton (best known as Puddy on "Seinfeld"), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from "The Princess Bride") and even Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, and you've got yourself an eclectic voice cast that would wow even the worldliest of whimsy-watchers.

Fans of the quasi-flop "The Emperor's New Groove" might see some similarities in the fast-paced and frenetic slapstick comedy of "Chicken Little." Nonetheless, all the voice talent combined with the numerous funkadelic animated dance sequences make "Chicken Little" a fairly pleasurable filmic romp. If you're looking for originality, though, search elsewhere.

Grade: B
[via Los Angeles Loyolan:]

Appliance of the Month: The Tangent Salutes Electric Knife

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my articles from the now-defunct humor section, Tangent.
Appliance of the Month
The Tangent Salutes Electric Knife

Mark J. Lehman
A&E Editor

Originally Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Welcome, friends, to the best season of the year. No, it's not because of Halloween, Thanksgiving or hot cocoa mornings. It's because of you, and only you, Electric Knife.

They broke the mold when they made you, Electric Knife. Knives in and of themselves are totally awesome, as everyone knows, but when you add the sheer power of that new technology called "electricity" to the mix, it's the best combination since that evil genius of the 13th century put peanut butter and banana together into a sandwich.

Sure, your use is usually limited to Christmas and Thanksgiving, when you are busted out to carve the hell out of those turkeys, but that's okay. You keep doing what you're doing, Electric Knife. It's working for you. You know exactly what I need, and you deliver the goods with style and gusto.

Some of my friends have been in my face lately about whether you are really worthy of my adoration as appliance of the month, taunting me with jeers like "It's not an appliance, it's a utensil!" But don't worry, Electric Knife; I don't let that faze me. I know what we have is real, and I believe you're man enough to be both utensil and appliance. Some might even say that makes you that much cooler, and when they say that, my heart goes pitter patter with pride and admiration.

If others got to know you like I know you, they'd see past your outer plastic casing and your bi-annual turkey-carving performance, and look deep inside to see the things that make you truly special. For instance, I know that if I'm ever in trouble, you're there in a flash to help me out, since you can triple as not only an appliance and a utensil, but in dire situations, as a weapon as well. Electric Knife, you're nothing but surprises, and that's just one of the many reasons why I love you.

So don't be nervous this coming holiday season when I take you home to meet my family. I know they will all love you, and we'll have a long and happy life together.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan:]
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