Loosies


A ridiculously handsome man.

A ridiculously handsome man.

(2011) Dramedy (IFC) Peter Facinelli, Jaimie Alexander, Michael Madsen, Vincent Gallo, William Forsythe, Marianne Leone, Christy Carlson Romano, Joe Pantoliano, Eric Phillips, Tom DeNucci, Tom Paolino, Ara Boghigian, Anthony Paolucci, Glenn Ciano, Johnny Cicco, Stella Schnabel, Peter Berkot, Anne Mulhall, Sera Verde, Rebecca Forsythe. Directed by Michael Corrente

Sometimes people do the right things for all the wrong reasons. Just as often, people sometimes do the wrong things for the best of reasons. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter why you do things, just that you did them.

Bobby (Facinelli) is a handsome, charming kind of guy. He walks around New York in a suit all day, letting all and sundry know that he works on Wall Street as a broker. Actually, Bobby is a pickpocket and a damned good one. He snatches watches, cash, cell phones, the occasional police badge – whatever he can get his slick fingers on.

But things are changing in his life. Lucy (Alexander), the pretty and spunky bartender at his favorite tavern, is pregnant – and Bobby’s the baby daddy. What had been a one night stand turned into a life changing event. Bobby, at his core a decent sort of fellow, wants to do the right thing. He wants to marry Lucy and settle down into being a good husband, father and provider.

That’s not going to be easy. Bobby owes Jax (Gallo) a fairly hefty debt, the legacy of his gambling-addicted father and is struggling to pay it off. Lt. Nick Sullivan (Madsen), the cop whose badge Bobby stole, is absolutely pissed off about it and is pursuing Bobby with the ferocity and tenacity of a pit bull on meth. His mom Rita (Leone) has a new boyfriend, the jeweler Carl (Pantoliano) who has been known to exchange punches with Bobby. And Lucy doesn’t want to be the wife of a lowlife, nor her child to be raised by one.

This is meant to be a star-making vehicle for Facinelli who has labored in the shadows for much of his career. An engaging lead with star potential, he has been relegated mainly to supporting roles although when he’s gotten the opportunity to shine (as on the too-brief TV series Damages) he has generally made the most of it and he does so here.

Bobby is a thoroughly likable rapscallion and while his choice aren’t the best, they are generally the lesser of two or more evils. Facinelli imbues the character with a general charm, ensuring the audience will like the schlub even though they know he’s doing things that are less than kosher. Facinelli and Alexander make a believable couple; there are a lot of bumps in the road for their characters but one never doubts the genuine affection.

While this is a bit of a mash-up between a crime caper and a romantic comedy, I don’t really see anything fresh here from either genre. It’s a bit paint-by-numbers in a sense  that is elevated by the performance of its cast. Facinelli is engaging enough performer that you’ll want to spend an hour and a half with him without checking your watch. These days, that’s kind of a plus.

WHY RENT THIS: Facinelli is likable. Good chemistry with Alexander.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t really offer up anything new.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some sexual content and some rough language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The husband of Nikki Reed, who co-starred with Facinelli on the Twilight series, contributes three songs on the soundtrack with his band Grand Magnolias (his name is Paul McDonald of American Idol fame).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3,519 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: New York, I Love You

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: X2

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Afghan Star


Afghan Star

Randy Jackson found Lema's performance "pitchy."

(Zeitgeist) Habib Amiri, Setara Husseinzada, Rafi Naabzada, Lema Sahar, Hamid Sakhizada, Massoud Sanjer, Daoud Sediqi, Tahir Shaqi, Fazi Hadi Shinwari. Directed by Havana Marking

The fallout from the War on Terror continues to wreak havoc on those countries that it has touched. After years of totalitarian rule by the Taliban, Afghanistan is finally beginning to turn the corner and modernizing, loosening ridiculous strictures laid on that country in the name of religion. For example, it was a crime under Taliban rule to listen to music or broadcast musical content on television.

A charismatic young television producer named Daoud Sediqi caught a glimpse of the British show Pop Idol (the American version of which is American Idol) and thought it would be something worth bringing to Afghanistan. Normally, I’d be making some joke about war crimes here, but the broadcasting of that show would prove to have a profound effect on the country.

This documentary, made by British filmmakers, captures a season of the show and its effect on Afghanistan. While the Taliban is gone, its supporters still wield enormous power, particularly in the Kandahar district. Death threats for those who go against the strict rules of the Imams is not uncommon.

Afghanistan also has a number of different ethnic groups, all more or less at each other’s throats. Sediqi was hoping that the voting would cross ethnic lines but in truth it hasn’t up to now. The program set up a cell phone voting program which would tend to favor younger and more open-minded voters, although in all honesty the results were still more or less along ethnic lines.

In fact, the four finalists – whom the documentary focuses on – were from different ethnic groups. There’s Rafi, who has the slick, charismatic and handsome look that would make him at home on our own version of the show. Hamid is a more polished vocalist from a professional group; he is from the marginalized Hazara ethnic group and he hopes his success will shine a spotlight on the plight of the Hazara. Setara is a fiery young woman from Herat whose last appearance on the show involves dancing and allowing her scarf to slip, both major no-no’s for the chaste Islamic woman. Lema is also a woman, also from a conservative region of Afghanistan whose music lessons, had the Taliban discovered them, would have led to her immediate execution.

That the documentary exists at all is a tribute to the resilience of the Afghans. Footage early on from the 1980s shows that the country had at least a passing interest in modern Western music, although that was abruptly and brutally cut short by the ascension of the Taliban.

This is not about the music competition and quite frankly, unless you’re a BIG fan of Afghan music, you’re probably not going to care who wins so much. In fact, the drawback here is that the music is mostly along traditional Afghani lines and those less open-minded sorts are going to dislike it pretty intensely. For my part, I found the music okay, not being a particular expert in the particular art form. All I can say is that I liked most of it.

Can you imagine what American Idol would be like if Kelly Clarkson would have had to go into hiding for dancing during her performance, or if Sanjaya had been making a political statement just by entering? It’s an amazing juxtaposition between two different cultures, where contestants in one thrive on popularity and the ability to sell records, compared with contestants who want to perform because they finally have been allowed a forum to. How exciting it is to see a voice which has been silenced for so long to finally be given its chance to shine?

WHY RENT THIS: A very compelling look at modern Afghan culture, particularly on the clash between traditional Islam and Western influences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “pop” music of the show is actually fairly traditional music from the various Afghan ethnic groups and some may not find it to their liking.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the subject matter is on the mature side, but otherwise should be suitable for nearly everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the official United Kingdom submission for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film for 2010. It did not, however, receive a nomination.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an interview with director Havana Marking detailing the difficulties in making this documentary.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Kick-Ass

Made of Honor


Made of Honor

Monaghan and Dempsey dance cheek to cheek.

(Columbia) Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin McKidd, Kathleen Quinlan, Sydney Pollack, Kadeem Hardison, James Sikking, Busy Philipps, Whitney Cummings. Directed by Paul Weiland

The secret to a successful romantic relationship is to marry your best friend. Sometimes, that logic escapes even the brightest of us.

Tom (Dempsey) is a serial lady-killer who operates on a complicated but nonetheless rigid set of rules guaranteed to prevent a serious relationship from sprouting up from the sex. At a collegiate Halloween party during the Clinton era he accidentally climbs into the bed of Hannah (Moynahan), a bookish co-ed when he meant to get busy with her cousin Melissa (Philipps). He gets sprayed in the eyes for his trouble and Moynahan, finding him curiously fascinating despite his male chauvinist pig attitudes, nurses him back to sight and points him in the direction of her cousin, who doesn’t handle liquor very well.

Fast-forward a decade and the two have become best buddies. His collegiate tendencies have blossomed into a full-blown lifestyle; he is able to afford this because he invented the coffee cup holder, which has made him rich. She works as an art buyer and is heading for Scotland on business. Tom still has the company of his buddies, including pal Felix (Hardison), and boasts that he has the best of all worlds; a different woman in his bed every night and Hannah during the day to hang out with. However, Tom realizes the longer that she’s gone that he really likes hanging out with Hannah and that he wants more than a platonic buddy relationship with her. He resolves to tell her so, but unfortunately for him, she returns with Colin (McKidd) in tow, the near-perfect man – a Scottish noble with medals for valor and achievement on his perfect manly chest, and a nice guy to boot. She informs a shocked Tom that the two have set a date to be married and she wants him – Tom – to be her maid of honor. Tom does what all men in that situation should do; knock over a waiter with a full tray of food. Ah, hilarity.

Tom is reluctant to go to Scotland to watch the woman he now knows he loves wed another man but Felix convinces him that the best way to subvert her nuptials is from the inside. He decides to go ahead with the plan, not realizing that among the bridesmaids is grown-up cousin Melissa who has an absolute hate on for Tom, and who secretly thinks she should be the maid of honor.

Tom tries to prove himself the best man for Hannah by being as perfect at everything as Colin is but as is usually the case in romantic comedies, events (and the very vindictive Melissa) conspire against him. Will true love triumph in the end?

Romantic comedies are a kind of fantasy, particularly as practiced by Hollywood. The formula is pretty much the same; an unlikely couple gets together and discovers a growing feeling for one another. Things go well until one of them makes a critical error and the two are separated. Usually a third party becomes involved and one of them looks headed for a lifetime relationship with the wrong person until the one he/she should be with saves the day.

That’s all fine and good for the movies but it doesn’t really work that way in real life. Now, I’m all for escapism but I just wish that Hollywood rom-com writers could put some variation in the formula to make these just a tad more interesting. After all, the plot here sounds suspiciously like My Best Friend’s Wedding, except that movie had Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney as a couple and there was more chemistry between those two than Dempsey and Monaghan any day of the week.

There really isn’t much here that makes this movie worth seeing, other than a pretty good-looking cast and the beautiful scenery of Scotland. One notable exception is director Sydney Pollack in his last acting role before his death in 2008 from stomach cancer. He plays Tom’s oft-married dad (undergoing wedding number six to American Idol Kelly Clarkson) who is negotiating a pre-nuptial agreement that is essentially a license for prostitution. It’s one of the few sequences that really stand out.

It’s hard to buy why the allegedly bright Hannah would find anything remotely in common with the terminally shallow Tom, who seems to represent everything in life she is against. I guess that the odd couple formula had to be filled out one way or another.

I will be the first to admit I have a great deal of fondness for a good romantic comedy. Some of my favorite movies of all time – Love, Actually comes to mind right off the top of my head – fall into that genre. However, the sad truth is that the studios seem incapable of making a good one and it’s been a bloody long time since I saw anything better than average come out in the genre from a Hollywood studio. It seems that Hollywood can churn out the special effects to make you believe an alien planet is real but can’t find a writer that will make you believe a romance is real. How sad is that?

WHY RENT THIS: Another harmless rom-com without ambition to be much more than that. The fine-looking cast is easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If your expectations are slightly higher, there are movies with similar themes done far better.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some mild sexuality and a bit of harsh language but otherwise suitable for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the filming was done at Dunvegan Castle on the Island of Skye, the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland and the ancient home of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod. The Highland Games sequence was filmed here, as well as a sentimental scene between Hannah and Tom.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Gigantic

Did You Hear About the Morgans?


Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Sarah Jessica Parker takes aim at the screenwriter while Hugh Grant nervously checks for witnesses.

(Columbia) Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Jesse Liebman, Michael Kelly, Wilford Brimley, Gracie Bea Lawrence, Kim Shaw, David Call, Seth Gilliam, Sandor Tecsy, Steven Boyer, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Marc Lawrence

A relationship depends on trust in order to work. However, once the trust is gone, can a relationship still exist or is it doomed to fail?

The relationship between Manhattan lawyer Paul Morgan (Grant) and his wife, successful boutique realtor Meryl Morgan (Parker) is in crisis. They have been trying to have a baby without any success and now Paul’s infidelity has caused the couple to separate. Paul really wants to get back together again with his wife, but she can’t get past her own feeling of betrayal. Hey, it speaks volumes that in order for the couple to even plan dinner together, they have to resort to having their personal assistants – overbearing Jackie (Moss) and cojones-challenged Adam (Liebman) rework their schedules just so they can align their schedules.

The dinner goes surprisingly well and Meryl allows Paul to walk her around the corner to a late showing for a new client. However, in a bit of a buzzkill, the new client is murdered before their eyes. As luck would happen, it turns out the client was co-operating with the FBI in a case against an international arms dealer who had hired a professional hitman to do the job. Now the assassin knows who the Morgans are, so U.S. Marshall Lasky (Gilliam) puts the quarreling couple in a witness relocation program.

Meryl is aghast. Not only is she leaving behind her beloved New York and her booming business but they are being sent to Ray, Wyoming, a flyspeck of a town in the middle of the Rockies. They will be cared for by the town sheriff, Clay Wheeler (Elliott) and his gun-totin’ wife Emma (Steenburgen) who are also employed by the U.S. Marshall service for the purpose of witness relocation because their location is so remote.

Paul is a bit upset because he has a thing about bears, which virtually guarantees he is going to encounter one in a movie like this. Meryl is a bit upset because she has no cell phone, blackberry or internet, which means she is going to find a phone which will lead the killer right to them. Both are bemused by the big rodeo celebration complete with (and this we are told emphatically) bull riding, which means that the two of them will wind up in the ring with the bull. And, sure as shootin’, the two city slickers are going to be inspired by them kindly western sorts into getting back together. Ain’t love grand?

Director Marc Lawrence has written, directed and occasionally produced some nifty romantic comedies, such as Music and Lyrics but this won’t be remembered as one of his better movies. The script is a bit light on the laughs, which is not good news for a comedy. It is also incredibly predictable and you sit in the darkness of the theater, praying to whatever being you worship for some kind of swerve, anything. Sorry chum; your prayers won’t be answered.

I normally like Hugh Grant a lot, which is why I wanted to see this in the first place (Da Queen, who reacts to Sarah Jessica Parker much in the same way a dog reacts to a police siren, was much less eager). However, he has little to do but furrow his brow (which he does to the point you think his nose is going to pop right off his face), look dreadfully uncomfortable and generally apologize repeatedly to the point where you want Liz Hurley to walk onscreen and slam him over the head with a cast iron skillet and say with a smirk “apology accepted – now shut up!” Come to think of it, Hurley would have been a much better casting choice here.

The sad thing is that some great actors are wasted. Sam Elliott, the quintessence of the American western tough guy, is placed in the awkward position of acting as a marriage counselor to the Morgans. I really felt for the guy; he’s due a really good role right about now and quite frankly, he hasn’t gotten one. Steenburgen is one of my favorite actresses from the 80s and 90s and is still gorgeous to my eye; she’s also warm and charming. Here, she channels Sarah Palin quite nicely (as the script leadenly points out in a line that might have been funny if uttered at a better moment) and gamely gives her all in a poorly written role.

While this is a good looking movie (the rugged western vistas of the Wyoming mountain country and the star-filled night sky contrast with the lights and concrete canyons of Manhattan), I found little that grabbed my attention. At the public screening I attended, there was almost no laughing and little more than the occasional sounds of popcorn being munched and soda being slurped. I have rarely heard an audience so quiet in my entire career.

The filmmakers try to make this funny but they only succeed in making it awkward, with terrible silences filling the movie. The effect is similar to having invited guests get into a shouting match while staying over. I really wanted to like this movie but unfortunately for everyone involved, I simply cannot recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, you’d do much better with It’s Complicated or having seen that, waiting for When in Rome, Leap Year and Valentine’s Day, all of which are coming down the pike in the next few months.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty views of the Wyoming mountain country.

REASONS TO STAY: The script is decidedly unfunny, and so very predictable. The actors all look uncomfortable, confused and undirected. Adds nothing to contrived fish-out-of-water premise.

FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and sexual situations and a scene of smoking but otherwise harmless.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gracie Bea Lawrence, who plays “American Idol”-wannabe Lucy, is director Marc Lawrence’s daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: You could be forgiven for waiting until it comes out on free cable, although some of the vistas in Big Sky country are worth seeing on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: It’s Complicated