Off the Menu


Romance always tastes better with a little extra heat.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Vision) Dania Ramirez, Santino Fontana, Maria Conchita Alonso, Makenzie Moss, Andrew Carter, Kenzo Lee, Ian Reed Kesler, Kristen Dalton, Virginia Montero, Mario Revolori, Ariana Ortiz, Paul Whetstone, Catherine Urbanek, Tracy Weisert, Richard Daniel Williams, Mike G. Mercedinio Cisneros Jr., Jessica Fontana, Jen Lilley. Directed by Jay Silverman

 

Some movies come along from time to time that go directly to home video. For most of them, there’s a very good reason for that. However, once in a great while, a movie comes to the direct-to-video market that leaves you scratching your head why it didn’t get more love and a theatrical release.

Joel (Fontana) is the heir to a fast-food fortune as the scion of the founder of the Tortilla Hut franchise. He’s the prototypical spoiled rich kid, more interested in training for the Iron Man Triathlon than he is in learning the family business. His sister Stacey (Dalton) is the de facto CEO of the firm and things aren’t looking as rosy as they might. Tortilla Hut has always gone the “bigger is better” route without taking much notice of quality. Tastes are changing, however, and Stacey knows that in order to keep its market share Tortilla Hut will have to change with the times. What Stacey wants is authenticity so she sends her brother to the American Southwest to sample some dishes to see if they can be adapted to the Fast Food format.

Joel really doesn’t want to be there; he just broke up with his fiancée Lauren (Lilley) and he doesn’t even like Mexican food. While driving through a tiny village in New Mexico his car gets towed due to an expired license. He’ll have to get the car out of impound in order to do that but the local District Attorney is out of town on a fishing trip.

After running afoul of a foodie tour operator, the unscrupulous Kevin (Carter) he also gets off on the wrong foot with the only restaurant owner in town – the single mom Javiera (Ramirez). Her food turns out to be divine – when he finally samples it – and he gets the approval of her hard-working mom (Alonso) and especially her daughter (Moss), a precocious child who never seems to be in school (at least the filmmakers make that a running joke). But in addition to a delectable green chile sauce, Javiera is also making eyes at Joel and he at her. Love may be on the menu – if Joel doesn’t do what he usually does and mess it all up.

The movie starts out on a very cliché note and continues in general with a lot of the more obnoxious tropes of the genre. It ends up being pretty predictable from a plot standpoint but you wanna know what? I actually got drawn in by the movie’s warmth and charm, and the genuine chemistry between the leads. I could have used less of the precocious child in the mix but that’s just my curmudgeon side acting out.

Ramirez and Fontana are excellent leads for this. They’re both very likable, even when Joel is acting like a self-centered douche. Yes, there is a sensual cooking sequence but it actually comes off as more authentic than steamy. These are two people genuinely trying to learn to like each other; Javiera has been burned before and is wary of any sort of relationship while Joel has never learned to put someone else’s needs above his own. They each end up helping the other one grow and there’s a lot to be said for that.

I liked this movie a lot more when it was over than I did at the beginning. I didn’t expect to enjoy the film as much as I did but here you are. I was especially happy to see Alonso onscreen again; she was one of my favorite actresses of the 90s, full of vivaciousness and sparkling like a diamond piñata in every role she played. She hasn’t lost her touch.

I can understand your hesitancy at taking a chance on a romantic comedy that has gotten little notice but sometimes the movies that fly under the radar are the ones that make the most impact. I truly enjoyed the movie more and more as it went along and if you can make it through until Joel arrives in New Mexico you might just have your heart touched as mine was. For those who don’t have plans for the upcoming Valentine’s Day, don’t want to go out and pay exorbitantly jacked-up prices at local restaurants or just want a nice romantic evening any other day of the year, I’ve got an idea for you. Off the Menu is actually the perfect aperitif for a romantic evening at home or a stay at home date. Order up some good Mexican food from the best Mexican restaurant in your neck of the woods, bring it home and enjoy it while watching this with the one you love. Share a good bottle of wine, too. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

REASONS TO GO: The film’s charm wins you over eventually. It is lovely to see Maria Conchita Alonso again.
REASONS TO STAY: It takes awhile for the film to get going. There are a few too many rom-com clichés.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild violence and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mario Revolori Is the twin brother of Tony Revolori who starred in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/6/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: No Reservations
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Insidious: The Last Key

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American Reunion


Stifler's mom and Jim's dd - now why didn't I think of that?

Stifler’s mom and Jim’s dd – now why didn’t I think of that?

(2012) Comedy (Universal) Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jennifer Coolidge, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, John Cho, Dania Ramirez, Katrina Bowden, Jay Harrington, Ali Cobrin, Chris Owen, Neil Patrick Harris, Charlene Amoia. Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

When we’re in high school, we are different people than we are as adults. We lack the life experiences that we gain as adults so we look back at ourselves back then and cringe, generally speaking, at how awkward and naive we were. Still, most of us tend to look back at our time back then with some nostalgia – in our ignorance we are kings of the world with everything we could possibly desire still stretched out before us. Perhaps this is why reunions are such big business.

The gang at East Great Falls High are getting together for their 13th reunion – apparently they’re a bit fuzzy on the concept – and some of the boys are getting a head start on the festivities. Jim (Biggs) and Michelle (Hannigan) are married with a two-year-old son who takes up all of their time, leaving none for romance and (especially) sex. Jim’s dad (Levy) is a widower and hasn’t quite gotten over the passing of his wife.

Oz (Klein) is a sportscaster on a 24-hour sports network who famously had a meltdown on a Dancing With the Stars-like show. His relationship with his girlfriend is strained and he is suddenly brought face to face with just how hot Vicky (Reid) still is and that the torch he has held for her still burns brightly.

Kevin (Nichols) is a somewhat emasculated house-husband whose wife Ellie (Amoia) has essentially turned him into a shell of his former self – which isn’t exactly what she had in mind. Finch (Thomas) has managed to get out of East Great Falls and gone on a series of adventures in South America which makes his mates just a little bit jealous of the freedom that he still has in his life.

The one person not invited to their mini-reunion is Stifler (Scott) who has a crap job at a securities firm for a douchebag he can’t stand, but in all other ways he is still the same Stifler they all know and love – which is precisely why he wasn’t invited. His penchant for getting them into trouble is exactly what they don’t need as adults with their responsibilities spelled out.

In a bit of an uncomfortable twist, Jim’s next door neighbor Kara (Cobrin) whom he used to babysit for has just turned 18 and filled out rather nicely. She’s always had a thing for her babysitter (who hasn’t) and has decided that his return to town affords her the excellent opportunity to fulfill her own bucket list dream – to have Jim be the one to take her virginity.

None of them are the same people they were in high school and yet all of them have those people buried deep inside them. As the weekend goes on, they are forced to deal with the changes that growing up has wrought in their lives and struggle to find the bonds that tied them together in the first place. Still, those bond are strong and perhaps nothing can’t be solved when you have a dish of American Pie for desert.

Hurwitz and Schlossberg, who co-wrote and helmed the Harold and Kumar trilogy (and perform the same duties here) manage to capture much of the essential elements that made the first American Pie films work – the genuine bonds between the characters that have been made even more unbreakable by the passage of time.

While the first films were raunchy comedies about teens feeling their way through the minefield of sexuality with often varying results, this is a different kind of rite of passage. Having had the privilege of attending my own high school reunion earlier this summer, I’m perhaps in a more sanguine frame of mind when it comes to reviewing a movie about the subject – I get the nostalgia and the warm glow that comes from it. We tend to look back with rose colored glasses to a certain extent, glossing over the monotony of homework, the agony of broken hearts (and nothing is quite so unbearable as unrequited teenage love or worse, a broken teen romance) and the chafing against parental authority. Instead, we tend to focus on the friendships, the good times, the epic failures that were nevertheless noble for their audacity, and what it all meant.

Seeing this is a bit like a reunion for those who had a fondness for the first movie or its two sequels (there were four direct-to-video sequels but they featured essentially completely different casts). Most of the actors in it have gone on to careers with varying degrees of success but we can recall the characters pretty clearly particularly as introduced here. The actors seem to have developed bonds of their own for each other – the chemistry between them is the kind that comes from genuine affection rather than from the script. You can’t fake that kind of thing and it shows here that they don’t.

This is clearly an ensemble film and all of the characters are given their moments to shine; if you had favorites from the original films you won’t be disappointed with the amount of screen time they get. There are a number of references to the earlier films, enough that those who are unfamiliar with them might get a little lost.

Also, like the first films, there is some heavy raunchiness going on here and if that isn’t your thing chances are you aren’t going to be reading this review anyway since chances also are that you have no intention of seeing this or any of the other films in the series. Ever.

If you liked the other movies in the series, you’ll more than likely like this one too. If you didn’t, you won’t like this one either. The same elements are all here that made up those films – the sometimes uncomfortable wisdom passed on to Jim by his dad, the outrageous attitude of the Stifmeister, the sometimes awkward antics of Finch and Kevin and of course the gorgeous girls who have grown up to become gorgeous women.

I liked this a lot more than I expected to but looking back, I’m not sure why my expectations were so low to begin with. This isn’t rocket science, after all – this is life and the common experiences most of us share. Sure, we don’t necessarily have our sexual failures broadcast on YouTube or sleep with the moms of one of our best friends – at least I didn’t – but all of us have had some awkward moments dealing with sex and attraction as teenagers, and experienced the disappointment of our lives not turning out how we expected them to. Hopefully, you’ll be granted the wisdom to accept that however our lives turned out that they are what we make of them and that good friends and loving family will make them bearable no matter what.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly warm and fuzzy. Nice to see “the gang” after so long.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Relies on crude humor like all the films in the series. Cliché-heavy. Too many references to previous films in the series for newcomers to jump comfortably in.

FAMILY VALUES:  Well, it’s crude. And obnoxious. There’s nudity, foul language and all sorts of sexual humor of varying degrees of grossness. There’s also some teen drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Levy is the only actor to appear in all eight American Pie films including the direct-to-video ones.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a look at how the producers were able to re-assemble nearly all of the original cast, a mini-featurette focusing on the cast’s predilection for punching each other in the balls (I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to) and finally, an interactive yearbook in which you can click on various characters, find out information about them and see interviews with the actor who played them.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $235.0M on a $50M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grosse Point Blank

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The 13th Warrior

Premium Rush


Premium Rush

Just because there’s a cab behind you doesn’t mean you’re on the right road.

(2012) Action (Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Sean Kennedy, Wole Parks, Aasif Mandvi, Kymberly Perfetto, Christopher Place, Brian Koppelman, Boyce Wong, Jimmy P. Wong, Darlene Violette. Directed by David Koepp

 

Some movies have a great deal of depth. They require thought, concentration and a bit of contemplation to truly appreciate properly. Then there are movies like this one; the cinematic equivalent of a double shot of espresso with a Red Bull chaser.

Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) – whose name is pronounced like the ACME-using coyote from the Looney Tunes cartoons – is a New York City bike courier who delivers packages all over Manhattan on a lightweight modified bike with no brakes. He’s cocky, fearless and lives for the adrenaline high that his job delivers. He’s smart too – he actually passed the bar exam but you won’t find him in a corporate cubicle. Oh no. Wilee is no mere office drone. He has a better life in mind for himself.

Which apparently includes a girlfriend named Vanessa (Ramirez) although she’s not so sure. In fact, Wilee’s rival courier Manny (Parks) thinks that she’d be better off with him. He apparently really has some sort of need to prove his superiority over Wilee, always up for a race with his rival. Wilee, being the free spirit that he is, has no time for this.

In fact, he’s too busy picking up a package from his alma mater from Nima (Chung) who also happens to be Vanessa’s roommate coincidentally – for a premium rush job, which the customer is paying extra dollars to get to its destination just a little bit quicker. However, there’s a creepy guy named Bobby Monday (Shannon) who wants the package and will do anything to get it. In fact, he needs to steal it in order to pay off a substantial gambling debt. The only reason Monday isn’t already dead is that he is a New York City cop. Monday takes off after Wilee in the streets of New York on a high-speed chase that both men are desperate to win.

And that’s all the plot you need to know. Anything else doesn’t really matter – in fact most of the plot I mentioned above doesn’t matter either, other than the last sentence starting with “Monday takes off.” This is all about adrenaline-fueled hard-charging bike stunts in the streets of New York. It’s like the X-Games urban war that you’ve always wanted to see. If they could have gotten Tony Hawk to do some tricks off of the parked cars they would have had it made.

The pacing is hyperkinetic with the story jumping back and forth through flashbacks. Graphics show the routes taken through the city by the couriers, and graphics and flash forwards show the choices available to Wilee at various intersections and the potentially lethal consequences of some of his options. Those are some of the most fun scenes in the movie.

Gordon-Levitt is an appealing actor who is moving up the ranks from indie darling into legitimate star. He has been busy in a wide variety of movies and looks to be making the movie into the top tier of Hollywood stardom. It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty buff looking here which is sure to make him a few new fans among the ladies.

Shannon is a versatile character actor who often has a dark streak in his characters. Here he is darker than most of the roles I’ve seen him in, a quite impressive villain who is out of control, and believes his badge renders him invulnerable to justice. Monday is the worst kind of bad cop and Shannon keeps him from becoming too much of a cartoon.

This is almost all action and no exposition. New Yorkers will find this a little bit more fun because of the locations, and men are going to like the non-stop action. There isn’t a lot here for those looking for relationships, character development or romance. It’s mostly about bicyclists taking insane chances. The lead character is well-named – he’s fearless and maybe too clever for his own good. I might have rated this higher had an anvil been dropped on his head.

REASONS TO GO: Some nifty action sequences and a clever use of graphics. Gordon-Levitt is engaging and Shannon makes a fine villain.

REASONS TO STAY: Very New York-centric. A little too much testosterone.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence and some disturbing imagery. There are plenty of foul words though.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the scenes set at Columbia Law School were filmed at Lerner Hall, the student center for the University.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100. The movie got decent reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Next Day Air

FORREST J. ACKERMAN LOVERS: Detective Monday uses the name of the legendary science fiction fan/author/literary agent/historian as an alias.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Of Gods and Men

New Releases for the Week of August 24, 2012


August 24, 2012

PREMIUM RUSH

(Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Kymberly Perfetto, Aasif Mandvi, Lauren Ashley Carter. Directed by David Koepp

New York’s bike messengers are a seriously fearless lot, risking life and limb every time they take their special fixie bikes (single gear bikes with lightweight frames and no brakes). Premium rush parcels are a way of life for them, but the last delivery of one messenger’s day is going to send him into circumstances he never could have imagined.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, intense action sequences and language)

The Apparition

(Warner Brothers) Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, Tom Felton, Julianna Guill. A young couple experience some terrifying events in their home. They discover that they are being haunted by a presence that a university experiment on the nature of poltergeists accidentally unleashed. The creature feeds on their fear but can only harm them if they believe it’s real. They enlist the help of an expert on the supernatural but they may be beyond any earthly help at all. Where’s Harry Potter when you really need him? Expecto Patronus!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for terror/frightening images and some sensuality)

Cosmopolis

(EntertainmentOne) Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric. While being driven across Manhattan in a state-of-the-art stretch limo, a financial whiz kid watches helplessly as his fortune evaporates. Visited by a parade of eccentric individuals and erotic encounters, he quickly realize that someone is trying to not only ruin him financially but to kill him as well. Based on the novel by Don DeLillo, this is the latest from visionary director David Cronenberg.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for some strong sexual content including graphic nudity, violence and language)

Hit and Run

(Open Road) Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold. A nice guy who used to be the getaway driver for bank robbers leaves the witness protection program to drive his fiancée – who knows nothing of his checkered past – to an audition in Los Angeles. Chased by the feds, things get complicated when his old gang shows up wondering where the money they stole is. It’s always in the last place you look.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content)

Killer Joe

(LD Distribution) Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon. When a young drug dealer’s stash is stolen by his mom (and you thought your mom was too nosy), he has to come up with $6K or else his supplier will have him killed. Finding out his mom’s insurance policy is worth fifty grand, he hires a hit man to whack his mom. The hit man usually requires cash up front, but in this case is willing to talk about the drug dealer’s sister…

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NC-17 (for graphic abberant content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality)

Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi

(Eros) Kavin Dave, Kurush Deboo, Boman Irani, Daisy Irani. A middle aged underwear salesman who seems destined to never find himself a bride, finally finds one. Unbeknownst to him however, the object of his desires is the sworn enemy of his domineering mother.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR