Forgetting Sarah Marshall


Sarah Marshall and Aldous Snow would take umbrage at being labeled shallow if only they knew what "umbrage" meant.

Sarah Marshall and Aldous Snow would take umbrage at being labeled shallow if only they knew what “umbrage” meant.

(2008) Comedy (Universal) Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Bill Hader, Russell Brand, Liz Cackowski, Maria Thayer, Jack McBrayer, Taylor Wily, Steve Landesberg, Da’Vone McDonald, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, William Baldwin, Jason Bateman, Kala Alexander, Kalani Robb, Francesca DelBanco, Branscombe Richmond, Billy Bush, Ahna O’Reilly. Directed by Nick Stoller

Neil Sedaka once opined in song that “breaking up is hard to do” and truer words were never spoken. It’s never easy to accept the end of a romantic relationship. It is a rejection of everything you are by the person you cared about the most. Some have said that the end of a relationship is kind of a death and should be mourned as such. Some relationships require more mourning than others of course, but there are those who are hit harder by rejection than others. Life has been good to those who can handle it with more grace.

If life has been good to anyone, it has been good to Peter Bretter (Segel). He’s a songwriter and film composer who has steady work on a hit television show. Not only that, he’s dating the totally hot lead; Sarah Marshall (Bell). That all ends one day when she ambushes him as he leaves the shower to announce that she wants to break up with him. At first, he’s devastated, but on the advice of his step-brother Brian (Hader), he has sex with a lot of women. After awhile, he realizes he’s really messed up and again, acting on the advice of others, decides to take a nice vacation to Hawaii.

He goes to check into the Turtle Bay resort, assisted by a beautiful, helpful check-in clerk named Rachel (Kunis) when who should walk by but his ex! To make matters worse, she’s there with her new boyfriend, only a few weeks after the breakup – well-known womanizing rock star Aldous Snow (Brand). Determined not to appear weak, he checks into a tremendous suite he can’t afford, whose nearby neighbors are bothered by the sound of a woman weeping. In fact, it sounds a lot like Peter.

Peter is beset by the images of people in love – couples on their honeymoon, men proposing to their girlfriends, even a Hawaiian wedding or two, all of which serve to remind him how lonely he is. Gradually, his lost teddy bear demeanor strikes a chord in Rachel and she takes him out. Before long, the two of them are beginning to feel a bond, but at the same time, Sarah is beginning to realize that she may have made the wrong move. Is there any moving on after forgetting Sarah Marshall?

Segel is a huge find. He absolutely rips it up here, although in many ways he’s almost a straight man to his own joke. His delivery is spot-on and his puppy-dog looks are not too good-looking, making him more of an everyman for all of us to relate to. He could have quite a future in romantic comedy as well as straight-up comedy if he chooses. Hill, so good in Superbad, nearly steals every scene he’s in here as an obsessive waiter, while Hader and Rudd continue to cement their reputations as among the best comic actors in the business. Kunis, formerly of That ‘70’s Show, hadn’t had the feature success as her former cohorts Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher to this point, but this put her over the top and has led to a career that has been the most successful of the graduates of that show.

Gorgeous Hawaiian locations are shown off to their best effect. The pacing is not so fast that you feel like you’re out-of-breath after watching the movie, but is fast enough that you’re not given a whole lot of time to think about things.

Nearly everything works here. Segel and Kunis have excellent chemistry and the story, while far-fetched in some of its coincidences, achieves what The Heartbreak Kid was trying to do in 2007. The jokes are laugh-out-loud funny and the characters are all people you want to get to know, even the self-centered Snow – who would get a movie of his own in Get Him to the Greek in 2010.

There are a few too many similarities to Knocked Up and other Judd Apatow comedies, but not enough to make this too crass a rip-off. This may be the first movie I’ve ever seen in which there is more male frontal nudity than female – in fact, the only female nudity can be found in a scene where Polaroid pictures of flashing women are pinned to a bathroom wall. However, you do wind up seeing plenty of Segel’s penis.

While some of this might seem at least thematically similar to recent blockbuster comedies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is at least funny enough to hold its own. Actually, in many ways, this is perhaps the best of the Apatow comedies that dominated the comedy landscape in the first decade f this century. This is a case where execution trumps innovation.

WHY RENT THIS: Absolutely hysterical; one of if not the best Apatow comedy ever. Star-making performances by Kunis, Segel and Brand. Gorgeous Hawaiian scenery.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a whole lot of original stuff going on here. Feels at times like you’ve seen it before.
FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of nudity, particularly of the male persuasion. Also a fair amount of foul language and some sexual situations and content.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The naked breakup and the Dracula puppet show are both taken from Segel’s real-life experiences.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: Both the 2 disc DVD Collector’s Edition and the Blu-Ray edition include the traditional Apatow extra “Line-o-Rama” as well as a few additional “Sex-o-Rama” and “Drunk-o-Rama” and there is an Aldous Snow music video as well as footage from Sarah Marshall’s TV show. There is line read footage, the video chat between Hader and Segel in its entirety as well as video diaries and a gag reel.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $105.2M on a $30M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (buy/rent), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: This is 40
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Hitchcock

The Burning Plain


This is what it's like to be stalked by a dark, handsome stranger.

This is what it’s like to be stalked by a dark, handsome stranger.

(2008) Drama (Magnolia) Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence, JD Pardo, Tessa Ia, John Corbett, Robin Tunney, Joaquim de Almeida, Rachel Ticotin, Jose Maria Yazpik, Danny Pino, Anthony Escobar, Stacy Marie Warden, Debrianna Mansini, Kacie Thomas. Directed by Guillermo Arriaga

In a relationship we take it on faith that our partner will be faithful to us. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. The consequences of infidelity can be far-reaching and are not always paid just by the one doing the cheating.

Gina (Basinger) is a housewife who has embarked on an affair with another man, who is also married but not to her – ruggedly handsome Nick (Almeida). They meet in a ramshackle mobile home stuck out in the middle of the New Mexico desert not far from where Gina lives but far enough off the beaten track that there’s no auto traffic. Gina and Nick’s little love shack however proves to be not as safe a place as they thought – and there they meet a tragic end.

Gina’s daughter Mariana (Lawrence) is trying to cope with her mother’s death. Both her family and Nick’s family are at odds with one another, each blaming the other family’s relative for being the catalyst for the affair leading both of them to their doom. Nick’s son Santiago (Pardo) is desperate to find answers and he initiates a conversation with Mariana which blooms into something more.

Sylvie (Theron) is the manager of a high-end restaurant in Portland, Oregon. She is affected by an air of melancholy which is exacerbated with routine bouts of loveless sex, temperamental behavior and frequent absences from work. She smokes incessantly, staring at the sea and the waves crashing on the rugged coastline. She is being followed by Carlos (Yazpik), a mysterious man who speaks no English.

Santiago (Pino) is a crop duster who knows his business backwards and forwards. When his plane crashes in a terrible accident, his daughter Maria (Ia) is heartbroken. Santiago makes his good friend go looking for her mother up North, a woman who suddenly and inexplicably abandoned her family after Maria was born.

If you thought this was a movie from Mexican filmmaker Alexander Gonzalez Inarritu, you’d be half-right – this is from his regular writer Guillermo Arriaga. Entwined storylines that gradually coalesce into a single cohesive story is something of a trademark with Inarritu; Arriaga is unfortunately less successful with it here.

It’s not because he didn’t have the right actors. The three female leads give incendiary performances albeit all tinged with melancholy and heartache. Lawrence, who has since gone on to win an Oscar and become one of the most acclaimed young actresses in Hollywood, is a teenager whose own emotions are a seething cauldron of confusion to her; she feels rage at her mother’s betrayal but also grief for her passing. It’s not an easy part to play and she does a good job playing it.

Basinger has the thankless role of playing a woman in a marriage that seems happy on the outside betraying her family. It’s not the kind of thing that makes a character lovable or one you want to identify with; in fact these kinds of actions tend to make audiences feel uncomfortable with that character and yet Basinger gives the character warmth and relatability. Gina is a good mom and a good wife (other than the infidelity thing) but Nick let’s her access a part of her that her marriage and family life no longer allow – her sense of being an individual, a sexual being and someone who is desirable and desired. That’s a powerful feeling and one that we all need to feel, regardless of our marital status.

Theron is icy cool at the movie’s beginning, closed off and emotionally guarded. Sylvie lives in a sterile environment that betrays nothing about her and love for her has become a series of meaningless sexual trysts. As the movie progresses and we begin to learn more about her, we see the terrible burden she bears. Theron wisely let’s Sylvie’s guard down in fits and starts and as her walls crumble, so too does the movie excel.

The movie’s downfall comes from its storytelling style. All of the stories are interweaved and as the movie progresses we realize that they aren’t concurrent – they take place in different timelines. This can be confusing to the audience as they struggle to figure out who’s who and as more of the plot gets revealed the story should be coming together but in some ways it isn’t too hard to guess what’s going on but in others it really is because Arriaga is so deliberately vague. It’s quite maddening at times.

Still the power of the performances and the storyline make this worthwhile at the end of the day. Just be warned that a good deal of patience is required and a little bit of observation. It’s easy to lose yourself in the acting, particularly the women. It might however distract you from following the storylines you need to be aware of in order to make sense of this.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific performances by Basinger, Theron and Lawrence.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jumps between stories and timelines makes the film choppy and unfocused.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief nudity and plenty of sexuality as well as a bit of foul language. Mostly it’s adult in a thematic sense.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Arriaga spent 11 years as a screenwriter (most notably for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) before choosing this novel, one of the most acclaimed in recent years written in Mexico, as the basis for his directing debut.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an interesting featurette on the musical scoring of the film, a segment that rarely gets attention on home video extras.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.5M on a $20M production budget; unfortunately the movie hasn’t recouped its production costs.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Unfaithful

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Playing For Keeps (2012)


Dennis Quaid is hyeah! (Uma Thurman too)

Dennis Quaid is hyeah! (Uma Thurman too)

(2012) Romantic Comedy (FilmDistrict) Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, Judy Greer, Noah Lomax, James Tupper, Abella Wyss, Grant Goodman, Grant Collins, Aidan Potter, Marlena Lerner, Iqbal Theba, Emily Somers. Directed by Gabriele Muccino

Making a connection with your own child isn’t always easy, particularly when you haven’t been around much. Connecting involves presence, and if you aren’t present, there’s nothing for your kid to connect with.

That’s been the story with George (Butler), once a soccer star in Europe who eventually played in the MLS in its early days but after an ankle injury forced him to retire, George has been struggling to keep it together. He is staying in the Virginia suburbs of our nation’s capital – not just because his last team was DC United, but because that’s where his son Lewis (Lomax) lives with his mom Stacie (Biel). George and Stacie were together once but no longer; in fact, we learn early on she’s engaged to marry her new boyfriend Matt (Tupper) who seems to be a much nicer guy than George; certainly he’s more stable.

Thing aren’t going terribly for George in any other facet of his life. He’s broke, would love to be working a sportscasting job but can’t find one to save his life, He lives in the guest house of a wealthy Indian man (Theba) and drives an Alfa Romeo which sounds posh until you realize that it was probably brand new at about the same time Frankie Goes to Hollywood was.

Soccer is really the only connection George has with his son. His son’s coach spends more time on the phone than training his young players (“Kick it with your toes” is about his only advice) and soon George can’t stand it and starts showing the youngsters a few pointers. The kids take to his instruction and soon by parental proclamation George is named the team’s new coach which is just in the nick of time since they haven’t scored a goal all season.

Things start looking up. The soccer moms, cougars all, start throwing themselves at George, among them redheaded Barb (Greer), a recent divorcee who has got a case of the hornies big time, brunette Denise (Zeta-Jones), a single mom who is an ex-sportscaster herself who thinks the way to George’s heart might be through her career connections, and blonde Patti (Thurman), the wife of Carl (Quaid) who is an expansive Texas-style businessman who thinks nothing of loaning George his Ferrari nor using his fame to close a business deal with Brazilian soccer fanatics.

Best of all, Lewis and George are beginning to find some common ground and even Stacie is looking at George in an entirely different light. But this being a Hollywood rom com, that’s just the calm before the storm. George’s sexual escapades begin to catch up with him and just as he’s ready to settle down, ESPN comes a’knockin’. George may have to choose between career and kid.

Muccino made his reputation as the director of the Will Smith hit Pursuit of Happyness and truth be told that was a much better film than this one. This is more or less standard Hollywood romantic comedy fare with few (if any) surprises. What keeps this from pure direct-to-video cheesiness is Butler whose easygoing Scottish charm make the movie. While his character really lacks inertia – things pretty much just happen to him rather than him making them happen – he gets by on a smile and an accent (not to mention a body that made most of the ladies in the auditorium sigh).

His chemistry with Biel is a bit bland to be honest; while I could see his appeal to her, her appeal to him wasn’t as apparent. I would have liked to have seen more fire from Ms. Biel; she’s shown it in plenty of roles so I know she possesses it. It’s just not in evidence here. As a result the romance in the romantic comedy is sorely lacking.

The supporting cast are pretty big name and only Greer really shines among them, although Quaid makes a game try. Quaid has been one of my favorite actors for quite a few years now and this is the sort of role that he excels at. A bit stuffy and a bit unctuous and not necessarily a good guy (although Quaid does good guys pretty well), but a lot of fun to be around.

Unfortunately the movie has more faults than strengths. This is clearly a movie aimed at the female audience but the women in the film are mainly bedroom ornaments for George. If you’re going to appeal to women, you need an appealing woman in the cast. All of the movies in the movie seem to be defined by their relationships with men. That’s not going to make your target audience happy.

Still, Butler is going to make plenty of the target audience happy, particularly in those scenes where his shirt comes off (and there are a few). Ultimately this is pretty disposable but not real offensive, unless predictable plot points offend you. In a holiday movie season where there aren’t a lot of rom com options to choose from, it will fit the bill but it doesn’t really hold up against the better movies of the genre. In short, it ain’t no Sleepless in Seattle.

REASONS TO GO: Gerard Butler is at his charming best.

REASONS TO STAY: No chemistry and no heat. Most of the women in the movie exist to bed Butler. A romantic comedy without romance.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit o’ sexiness and some foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was formerly titled “Playing the Field.”

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 4% positive reviews. Metacritic: 27/100. The reviews are pretty pathetic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Ugly Truth

SOCCER LOVERS: There’s quite a bit of the Youth game variety but Butler has a few nice moves that he shows off at various times of the movie.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Magic Mike


Magic Mike

Matthew McConaughey practices pointing to the exits on the plane.

(2012) Drama (Warner Brothers) Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Riley Keough, Joe Mangianello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Camryn Grimes, Kate Easton. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

 

The world of the stripper is one that most of us have little understanding of. What would cause a person to want to take their clothes off publically, letting complete strangers stuff dollar bills in their g-strings? What does it take to maintain that kind of exhibitionism?

Mike (Tatum) is a busy guy. He owns a mobile detailing service and during the day installs roofs. Three nights a week, he is Magic Mike, a male exotic dancer – a stripper, if you will – for Xquisite, a male revue run by Dallas (McConaughey) who is fully aware that Mike is his star attraction. Dallas wants his show, which has to rent space in a Tampa nightclub, to have a permanent home in Miami, a much more lucrative market. He’s working on that very thing and will give Mike a percentage of ownership when it happens.

While working on a roofing job one day, Mike meets Adam (Pettyfer), a somewhat lackluster roofer and a bit of a screw-up who is accused of stealing a can of Pepsi and quits. Adam, who once had a football scholarship to a major Division I school, had gotten in a fight with his coach on the first day of practice and lost his scholarship; now he sleeps on the couch of Brooke (Horn), his sister.

Mike takes a liking to him against all odds and brings him around Xquisite to do some menial work. When Tarzan (Nash), one of the strippers, is unable to perform, Mike herds Adam – whom he bestows the stage name of The Kid on – onstage and while Adam shows a distinct lack of technique, he has a certain raw sexuality and great instincts, enough so that Dallas is impressed enough to take him on as a dancer.

Mike and Adam become close friends. As Adam becomes more proficient a dancer, his popularity grows. Mike is okay with this because he has a plan – he wants to own his own custom furniture business, and just needs a bank loan to do it in but sadly, his credit is undesirable to banks. His frustration begins to grow in that his life isn’t turning out the way he wants but he develops a kind of love-hate relationship with Brooke who recognizes that he is a decent sort but is concerned about the lifestyle of non-stop sex, partying and drugs which are beginning to take over Adam’s life. As Adam becomes more popular, he begins to change and Mike realizes that he can’t be Magic Mike forever.

I admit to being a little bit surprised by this one. A movie about male strippers starring Channing Tatum? I don’t think so. But a funny thing happened on the way back home from the theater; I found myself actually liking the movie. How unlikely was that? As unlikely as a performance of emotional depth from Channing Tatum. Wait a minute, we got that too.

Tatum has been an actor that I’ve never particularly cared for. He always seemed to be kind of flat, emotionally; he’s certainly got the good looks but he never connected with me – until now. For the first time ever, I saw something that indicated to me that he has the ability to be a big star instead of just a matinee idol for action films and romantic comedies, which is what he’s been to my mind up to now. The audience gets a sense that there is much more depth to him, as well as to Magic Mike. You see the regrets and frustrations that are boiling over in him. As the movie opens he’s easy-going, sexy and really not too deep but as it progresses we see the layers. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance by any means – but it could very well be the kind of work that lands him some more challenging roles that might get him there someday.

McConaughey who is well known for being shirtless anyway shows a lot more off than his chest (in fact most of the actors who play strippers do, as well as a number of the women that play their girlfriends/partners for the evening). Dallas is a manipulative, conniving bastard and McConaughey, an easy-going East Texan by nature, has done those types of roles and done them well throughout his career. This is some of his best work yet.

In earlier films like I Am Number Four Pettyfer showed some promise but has since stumbled. Once again, he shows a great deal of presence and raw talent; it’s not enough to catapult him into the next level quite yet but certainly shows that he could go a long way if he gets the right roles. This is the kind of thing that really stretched him from the previous work I’d seen him in and he does credibly well. Like Tatum, we might well be seeing him top-billed for years to come.

This is much more than just guys strutting themselves onstage. There is a surprising look at the cost of stripping when it comes to the lives of those who are engaged in it. It’s a great big party, yes, but in many ways ultimately an empty escapade. My understanding is that many actual strippers are gay, but we don’t see any of that in the film, possibly to keep the fantasy of the potential straight female audience intact. Still, it might have been nice if the filmmakers had given the potential gay male audience a bit more than they did as well.

I have to admit that I am not too familiar with live male exotic dancing shows or of the behavior of women who attend them but I got a glimpse at the theater I saw this in. The women in the audience (who were quite frankly the vast majority of the audience, arriving in groups of three and four, generally without boyfriends or husbands) were cheering and screaming and at times watching with rapt attention, sighing audibly when someone’s naked butt came into view. Gentlemen, if you want to rev your ladies up for a night of romance…no, might as well say it – for hardcore sex, this movie makes some pretty prime foreplay.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of bare skin and abs for the ladies. Tatum shows surprising depth.

REASONS TO STAY: Definitely geared more towards the ladies.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a ton of sexuality and plenty of nudity, both male and female. There’s all sorts of foul language and some drug use here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The current Warner Brothers opening sequence is not used here; they use instead the Saul Bass-designed sequence from the 1970s, somewhat modified.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/5/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100. The reviews are surprisingly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Showgirls

MALE EXOTIC DANCE LOVERS: While most of the actors have no game whatsoever, Tatum – who has a background in it – actually performs in a fairly spectacular manner.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Adventureland


Adventureland

Jesse Eisenberg is taken aback when he discovers that Kristen Stewart thinks Robert Pattinson is dreamy.

(Miramax) Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr, Paige Howard, Margarita Levieva, Wendie Malick. Directed by Greg Mottola

All of us at one time or another have a summer job that at the time we worked it sucked rocks. When we look back on that time in our lives, however, we are almost surprised when we realize our memories of it are fond indeed.

For James (Eisenberg), it’s the summer of 1987. He is getting ready to go to Columbia University, and plans on going to Europe over the summer. Unfortunately for James, his dad is downsized so the money earmarked for his trip has to go to other things. In fact, James is going to have to get himself a summer job.

Qualified to do absolutely nothing, not even fast food, James is beginning to get desperate until he lands a job working the games at Adventureland, the local amusement park. At first, it’s like a living hell; the park is falling apart, the games are rigged and the people there are rude and cruel.

Gradually, James begins to make connections; with Joel (Starr), the bespectacled literary geek who affects a pipe and may be even more picked on than James is; with Connell (Reynolds), the married but cool maintenance man who once played onstage with Lou Reed, at least according to Connell; and most importantly, with Em (Stewart), a fellow games employee who may be even more screwed up than James himself.

Em and James begin an awkward romance, the kind that is so fragile that the smallest stress could blow it away like a dandelion. In that kind of relationship, you tread carefully, each step carefully considered like you’re walking through a minefield which in essence, you are.

Mottola, who previously directed Superbad, steered clear of the raunch of his last movie and instead goes for a sweet-natured dramedy that has at its core a coming of age story but is less that than…well, I’m not sure I can describe it accurately, but suffice to say that the growth that takes place here isn’t the movie’s objective.

The studio, hoping to capitalize on Mottola’s Superbad, marketed it in a way that suggested that Adventureland was similar in tone, and it clearly is not. That may have cost the movie some box office receipts, unfortunately. That’s a shame because this is basically a pretty good film.

Eisenberg, who has been characterized (not unjustly) as a poor man’s Michael Cera, is less annoying than Cera here (which carried over to his next role in Zombieland). However, it is Kristen Stewart who is in my opinion the real reason to see this. While some might hate on her because of her Twilight connection, she is actually a pretty accomplished actress and shows it here with her portrayal of a girl who makes horrible decisions, is desperately miserable and yet remains unbelievably cool.

There are some pretty nice backing performances as well; Hader and Wiig, for example, as the managers of the park who are despised by their employees, and Levieva as the staff slut. It’s all set to a pretty nifty 80s soundtrack that owes more to the Replacements and their ilk than to the more standard Depeche Mode/Wang Chung school of new wave that most period films tend to employ.

Sadly, the movie falls through the cracks between raunchy sex comedy, bittersweet period piece and coming of age drama, with elements of all three. It’s definitely a movie worth checking out, but be warned in advanced that while there are some funny moments, it’s not a comedy per se. It’s the kind of film that can’t really be easily categorized except as high quality.

WHY RENT THIS: A bittersweet paean to summer jobs, uncertain futures and desperate romance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not raunchy enough to compete with modern comedies and too raunchy to appeal to family audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug use, some sexuality and bad language. In other words, I’d probably think twice before letting the kids see this one.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on Mottola’s real-life experiences at the Adventureland park in Long Island; the movie was shot at Kennywood outside of Pittsburgh, however since the real Adventureland has changed so much over the years.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are some fake promos for the fictional Adventureland amusement park as well as an employee training video and drug policy overview.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Miracle at St. Anna

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh


The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

A beach party, Pittsburgh-style.

(Peace Arch) Jon Foster, Peter Skarsgaard, Nick Nolte, Sienna Miller, Mena Suvari, Omid Abtahi, Keith Michael Gregory, Seth Adams. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

There comes a point where we all need to find ourselves. We drift aimlessly from moment to moment, never really sure who we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to act. Sometimes, it takes one strange summer to right our drifting ships.

Art Bechstein (Foster) has a very bright future ahead of him. The son of Joe Bechstein (Nolte), a powerful businessman in the city of Pittsburgh, he’s been accepted to a prestigious university to learn business, with an eye to becoming a stockbroker, much to Joe’s chagrin. Joe’s business, you see, is laundering money for the mob, and he is eager for Art to take over the family business.

Art would much prefer to lose himself in a minimum wage job for the summer, and he finds just the one as a clerk at a book store. He gets involved in a highly sexual relationship with Phlox (Suvari) his manager, and exists in a state of passive stupor. Only when he meets Jane (Miller) at a party does he begin to rouse from the waking slumber he seems caught in.

Jane also has a boyfriend, Cleveland (Skarsgaard), a petty criminal who has a penchant for manipulation, bisexuality and occasional violence. Still, Art is fascinated by him and the two become buddies, each sleeping with Jane and eventually with each other. Cleveland is his own worst enemy and soon runs afoul of the wrong people, leading Art to seek intervention from his father, the ultimate in degradation as far as Art’s concerned. Unfortunately, in Pittsburgh, happy endings aren’t a regular occurrence.

This is based on Michael Chabon’s coming-of-age novel which he wrote in 1988. Chabon, who also wrote “The Wonder Boys” and “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” is one of my favorite authors today. He is a very literary, smart kind of writer and the movie tries to capture that feeling. Director Thurber, who previously helmed Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, was much taken by the novel and convinced Chabon that he was the man to bring it to the screen after many failed efforts to do so. That he persevered and got the movie made is to be commended.

That said, it should be noted that the movie suffers from a surfeit of languidness. I think Thurber was trying to emphasize the overall passiveness of the Art character, but Christ on a crutch, he’s borderline narcoleptic here. Art never acts at any time in the movie, always reacts and consequently it’s hard to get fully invested in the character. Foster doesn’t help by playing him colorlessly, although that may have been intentional given the script. Foster’s voice-over narration is over-utilized in places, although the fact that much of the narration is lifted directly from the book is somewhat compensatory.

That opens the door for Skarsgaard and he kicks the damn thing in with a vengeance. This becomes in no small way Cleveland’s movie and Skarsgaard plays the character as something of a modern-day pirate, full of lust for life and zeal for lawlessness. It’s a memorable performance and Skarsgaard could well be on his way to becoming one of the better young actors in Hollywood.

Nolte has become a solid character actor with his hangdog expression; he glowers often like a pit bull is hidden inside. He’s tough but reaches out to his son with regularity, knowing in advance that his feckless boy will turn away. He puzzles over how such a creature could have come from his loins, but doesn’t overly obsess about such things. It’s a great role for Nolte and he’s perfectly cast.

Miller and Suvari are both pleasant enough in their roles, with Suvari getting the nod for performing in a role that has little going for it and makes it at least memorable, which is more than Foster could do with the lead role.

The Pittsburgh depicted here is a tough survivor, the capital of the Rust Belt. While Philadelphia carries with it certain sophistication and is firmly planted in an Eastern mindset, Pittsburgh is more rooted in the Midwest and is much more blue-collar. Abandoned factories and rough and tumble punk clubs are just some of the hangouts for the characters here, and it feels pretty authentic – that much the filmmakers got right. Unfortunately, the movie could have used a bit more oomph in it and quite frankly, a different actor as Art. Foster may well be a decent actor, but he simply couldn’t make Art a character I’d want to spend any time with – not even the 90 minutes of the movie that is about him.

WHY RENT THIS: Skarsgaard gives an electrifying performance that lights up the screen. Chabon’s prose, utilized in the narration, is always quite wonderful to hear. Nolte gives yet another solid performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing is uneven and Foster is unfortunately not terribly memorable as Art, although this is perhaps intentional.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of sexuality, sexual tension and nudity throughout, as well as some fairly strong language. Definitely for mature audiences only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the book, the character of Cleveland is not bisexual and plays a very minor role. His character was merged with the main gay love interest Arthur Lecomte in order to provide a love triangle for dramatic purposes.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an interesting interview with author Michael Chabon, director Thurber as well as some other people connected with the production detailing the novel’s somewhat bumpy journey to the screen.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Great New Wonderful