Battle of the Sexes


Billie Jean King and Bobbie Riggs: together again.

(2017) True Life Drama (Fox Searchlight) Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Eric Christian Olsen, Fred Armisen, Austin Stowell, Wallace Langham, Martha MacIsaac, Lauren Kline, Mickey Sumner, Fidan Manashirova, Jessica McNamee, Ashley Weinhold. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

 

The 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King, then the best female player in the world, and Bobby Riggs, a middle aged former Wimbledon champion was in many ways the epitome of excessive hype and sensationalism, two things America does particularly well. Some have looked at it as a metaphor for the struggle of women to gain equality but in many ways it really was just an over-bloated carnival sideshow that caught the attention of the world when it happened.

King (Stone) was busy trying to get the Woman’s Tennis Association off the ground; wearied by years of being dismissed by the male elite of the USLTA, then the ruling body for American tennis, and worse yet receiving only about one eighth the prize money that men received, she and her fast-tallking chain-smoking publicist Gladys Heldman (Silverman) are not looking necessarily to make a statement other than create an organization that will promote women’s tennis properly. King wasn’t particularly political but she did have a sense of fairness that was more developed than most.

Riggs (Carell) was a hustler and a man with a gambling problem whose career greatness was well behind him. Hitting upon an idea that he thought would generate him the kind of money that would keep him and his family comfortable, he wanted to play the best female player in the world and beat her to show that even an over-the-hill male player could beat the best woman. King at first refused but when Margaret Court (MacIsaac) who had the number one ranking at the time accepted the challenge – and lost – King felt obliged to take the match, particularly since the defeat could sink the WTA before it was even afloat.

To complicate matters, King had begun a romance with hairdresser Marilyn Barrett (Riseborough) that gave King the first realization that she was a lesbian. Of course it was a much different time back then; the revelation of her sexuality could wipe out the credibility of the WTA and of course destroy her marriage to her husband Larry (Stowell) who was genuinely supportive and someone she didn’t want to hurt. There was a ton of pressure on Billie Jean King coming to a head in the Astrodome on September 20, 1973.

Stone does an outstanding job as King, despite not having a particular physical resemblance to the tennis great. She does pull off King’s high wattage squinty smile very nicely and many of her vocal mannerisms. She doesn’t play King as a confident leader which was perhaps the public perception of her, but as someone who was thrust into a role she didn’t particularly want to play but accepted the role she’d been given. Stone has an outside chance of an Oscar nomination for her work but because the movie was released in September, kind of a no man’s land for award season, the chances are a little bit more slender than they might have been had the movie gotten a November or December release.

Carell also does a really good job as Riggs, capturing the huckster public persona and the personal charm Riggs displayed on the camera. We also get the sense – which those who knew Riggs well, including Billie Jean King have often stated – that the chauvinism was an act for him, a means of hyping up the match and of making a buck. There are moments of genuine warmth and Carell delivers them note-perfectly.

Dayton and Faris really give us a sense of the era nicely including a killer soundtrack – it’s nice that movies are really nailing era soundtracks these days – and the fashions and design of the time. They do make a tactical error in spending so much time on the romance between Billie Jean and Marilyn; while I do think that King’s discovery of her sexuality was an important component to her life at the time it was by no means the only one. The romance is over-emphasized and slows down the movie’s momentum and pads the running time a bit much. There really aren’t a lot of sparks between Stone and Riseborough and it makes the movie overall feel a bit flatter than it needed to be.

Still, this is a fairly enjoyable movie that if you’re patient can be quite entertaining. I wouldn’t call it a gem (some critics have) but neither would I call it a failure either. Misogynists will probably detest the movie and radical feminists may think it’s a bit soft. However those of us in between will find a good comfortable place to enjoy the spectacle.

REASONS TO GO: The performances of Stone and Carell are stellar. The directors evoke the era of the 70s nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie has a bit of a soap opera-esque feel. The film is a bit flat.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Carell previously worked with Dayton and Faris in Little Miss Sunshine.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/6/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wimbledon
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Victoria and Abdul

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Band Aid


There are few things as musically authentic as a garage band..

(2017) Comedy (IFC) Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Susie Essman, Retta, Hannah Simone, Ravi Patel, Brooklyn Decker, Angelique Cabral, Majandra Delfino, Nelson Franklin, Kailash Banerjee Sukhadia, Vivien Lyre Blair, Colin Hanks, Chris D’Elia, Daryl Wein, Jamie Chung, Erinn Hayes, Jesse Williams, Gillian Zinser. Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones

 

Marriages are complex, fragile things that can sometimes be torn apart by the slightest of difficulties. We take it for granted that married couples will argue, sometimes in toxic ways. Relationship experts tell us that arguments are a healthy thing for couples. Experience tells us that they can also signify the beginning of the end.

All Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Pally) seem to do is argue. The arguments are generated by life’s little annoyances – like a chronically full sink of dirty dishes and a leaky faucet that never gets fixed –  and often lead to big underlying issues. Both of these 20-somethings are suffering from failed expectations; Anna once had a book deal that fell through and now she’s an Uber driver. Ben, a talented artist, designs corporate logos when he can actually get his butt off the couch. There are moments that it’s clear that the two still love each other but those moments are becoming increasingly infrequent.

One early hint that things are terribly wrong between them is that when they are invited to a child’s birthday party, Anna has to get really high just to make it through the party for reasons that become clear later in the film. While she is blissed out, she and Ben give an impromptu rock concert on children’s instruments. Later that night, Anna hits on the idea of starting a band – and using their arguments as inspiration for songs.

Considering that their relationship counselor is moving to Canada (quite possibly to get away from the two of them), it seems like all the therapy they can afford. They locate their dusty guitar and bass and start searching for a drummer; they find one in Dave (Armisen), a neighbor and recovering sex addict who probably couldn’t be more creepy if the writer’s tried (and they did).

They play a couple of gigs and they aren’t half bad. In fact, they’re pretty good. Best of all, the impromptu therapy seems to be working; Anna and Ben are arguing less and the dishes are getting done. They seem to be more kind towards each other. A potential record deal is in the offing. Life couldn’t be rosier.

Then they have the mother of all arguments and at last some of their underlying issues begin to surface. Anna throws Ben out and he shacks up with Dave for a bit before running home to Mama (Essman). But there were things said that can’t be un-said. Can their relationship survive? Should it?

There’s a lot to like here. Lister-Jones, more familiar to viewers through her television work including her most recent stint on the CBS sitcom Life in Pieces, proves to be a promising director. She’s no Sofia Coppola – yet – but she has the wisdom to keep her touch light and the skill to pull it off. She also has a ton of chemistry with Pally; the two make a cute couple, too cute upon occasion but always believable. Their arguments hit the right notes and sound pretty authentic to these married ears.

The dialogue is hipster 101 in some ways; everyone talks like they’re in a sitcom pulling off snarky one-liners. The trouble is, I know a lot of people who talk exactly like Ben and Anna and it’s even more annoying in real life. Some people are also not going to be able to get past that both Ben but especially Anna use drugs heavily t get through the pain and have both become somewhat caught in a very deep rut. Go-getters might have trouble with the couple, as those who have issues with hipsters might.

Still, the movie is surprisingly insightful – the conversation between Ben and his Mom near the end on the nature of women had a lot to say and makes the whole movie worth it right there. I was also fond of the dirty dishes as a metaphor for the relationship; the dishes just stood there stagnant in a pile with the couple just piling new dishes on until one of them thinks to clear out the dishes from the sink. So it is with relationships (and Ben and Anna’s in particular); all the negative stuff gets piled on in the relationship and the heap just gets larger and larger until one of them decides to let go of the negatives.

The tone is pretty light and I liked that the humor which was pretty skewed in places kept things from getting too depressing, but some of the humor is a bit cruel and snarky; if you don’t like those sorts of jokes this movie might not be for you. Do look for the cameos of Uber passengers in Anna’s car. This isn’t going to be top ten material for the year but it is a breezy and engaging film that has a surprising amount of depth at its core. Definitely check this one out!

REASONS TO GO: There are a surprising amount of insights, particularly later on in the movie. The music is pretty decent and surprisingly varied..
REASONS TO STAY: The dialogue is almost unbearably hipster-friendly.
FAMILY VALUES: There is more than a little drug use, plenty of profanity, some brief nudity and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Decker, Delfino and Lister-Jones all star in the TV show Friends with Better Lives.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inside Llewyn Davis
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Past Life

New Releases for the Week of June 23, 2017


Transformers The Last KnightTRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Isabella Moner, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Glenn Morshower, Gemma Chan. Directed by Michael Bay

The world is in chaos and Optimus Prime has gone walkabout, headed back to Cybertron to demand answers of his maker – the mad goddess Quintessa. Left holding the bag is Cade Yeager, doing his best to hide and protect the remaining Autobots from a vicious government agency. Unbeknownst to the humans Optimus has succeeded in reaching his homeworld and now it is on its way to Earth – to rob it of life itself so that it may live once again. Only an eccentric English nobleman with knowledge of the Transformers legacy on Earth can save the human race from complete annihilation.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

Band Aid

(IFC) Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Brooklyn Decker. The marriage of Ben and Anna is on its last legs; the couple can’t seem to stop fighting. Facing the inevitable, the two make a last-ditch effort to save their relationship – they start a band and turn their fights into songs. To their surprise, their pain connects with audiences and their unorthodox solution might just work – but can they maintain the momentum if they stop fighting?

See the trailer, a clip and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Beatriz at Dinner

(Roadside Attractions) Salma Hayek, Chloë Sevigny, John Lithgow, Connie Britton. Beatriz is a healer. Forced to leave her small, idyllic Mexican village by a greedy developer who separated her from her family, she came to the United States hoping to put her skills to good use and thus far she has. However, when her car breaks down at the home of a wealthy client, she is invited to stay for a small dinner party celebrating the conclusion of a big development deal. One percent, meet the Dreamers.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and a scene of violence)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

Can We Still Be Friends?
DJ Duvvada Jagannadham
The Survivalist
Tubelight
 

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Alien Arrival
The Bad Batch
El Techo
Glory (2017)
The Hero
It’s For Your Own Good
Moka
One Week and a Day
Past Life
The Student

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Wakefield

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

None

Deck the Halls


A Christmas guilty pleasure.

A Christmas guilty pleasure.

(2006) Holiday Comedy (20th Century Fox) Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth, Alia Shawkat, Dylan Blue, Kelly Aldridge, Sabrina Aldridge, Jorge Garcia, Fred Armisen, Gillian Vigman, Ryan Devlin, Sean O’Bryan, SuChin Pak, Jackie Burroughs, Garry Chalk, Nicola Peltz, Zak Santiago, Jill Morrison, Brenda M. Crichlow, Eliza Norbury. Directed by John Whitesell

The Holly and the Quill

There comes a time in all our lives when we laugh at something we know we shouldn’t laugh at. We know it’s wrong, we know we shouldn’t do it but we still do it anyway. When it happens in a movie, we call it a “guilty pleasure.”

Dr. Steve Finch (Broderick) is a mild-mannered optometrist in one of those picture postcard perfect Massachusetts towns that looks like it sprung fully formed from a Currier and Ives print. He’s also the Christmas guy around town, the one who decorates his home tastefully but noticeably, the guy who’s in charge of the Christmas pageant, the one who buys his family matching ugly Christmas sweaters. His children Madison (Shawkat) and Carter (Blue) are somewhat disinterested in their father’s regimented, traditional Christmas that allows no deviation from the norm. Although his wife Kelly (Davis) wishes that her husband was less rigid, she tolerates the situation because being obsessed with Christmas is way better than being obsessed with Internet porn, right?

Then across the street moves in used car salesman Buddy Hall (DeVito) with his…ummmm, statuesque wife Tia (Chenoweth)  and his buxom blonde twin daughters Ashley (K. Aldridge) and Emily (S. Aldridge). Buddy is going through an epic midlife crisis. He has never really attained any sort of real success and is living in a house he really can’t afford. The neighborly Finches invite his family over for dinner and Buddy’s inferiority complex is deepened when he discovers that the satellite locating website MyEarth (which is Google Earth without paying Google the big bucks for using their name) shows his neighbor’s house just fine but his is too small to be seen from space. Then it hits him – what if he put up a Christmas display so bright that it can be seen from space?

This puts Buddy in a frenzy of light buying and Christmas pageantry which doesn’t sit well with Dr. Steve who is threatened by a usurper for his title of the Christmas guy around town. He sets off to sabotage Buddy’s efforts which he sees as garish and lurid. The two begin a series of escalating pranks on one another, culminating in both their wives taking their children out of the house and staying elsewhere, leaving the two obsessed Christmas porn lovers to duke it out between themselves. Will Buddy win and get his wish to be noticed, to accomplish something monumental? Or will Steve win and get his wish for a traditional Christmas?

Critics savaged the movie when it came out and in a lot of ways I can’t really blame them. The humor often falls flat and is generally crude, the script preposterous, the plot outlandish and the acting mainly phoned in. Broderick, whose character is covered at one point with camel spit and sheep doo-doo from a living nativity that Buddy throws up, was heard to mutter on the set “I’ve hit rock bottom” on a regular basis and DeVito literally flew in on the days he was scheduled to shoot, acted his scenes and left without interacting with any of the cast. Supposedly everyone on set was fully aware they were cooking up a turkey.

And yet…and yet…I still find myself strangely drawn to the movie. In some demented way, it appeals to me. I think deep down it is supposed to be a commentary on how we’ve warped Christmas in this country with rampant consumerism and a terminally competitive attitude towards showing how much Christmas spirit we have (We’ve got spirit – yes we do! We’ve got spirit – how ’bout YOU?!?) particularly in decorating our homes. Not that saying we’ve lost our way in terms of the season is anything new or earth-shattering – Miracle on 34th Street was making the same point 59 years earlier – but it’s a point that bears repeating.

Chenoweth, one of Broadway’s brightest stars and who always impresses when she gets a movie to work on, is one of the highlights. She’s the blonde bimbo who turns out to be a bit smarter than anyone gives her credit for, seeing her husband for what he is and loving him anyway although when his excesses threaten the family stability, she exhibits a lot more strength than you’d imagine she has. Maybe I have a critic-crush on the woman, but she’d make reading the phone book an interesting movie.

I mentioned the humor earlier but I neglected to mention how mean-spirited it is. For example, Buddy and Steve are watching the Christmas pageant and a trio of scantily dressed young women come out and do a provocative dance. Both men cheer and call out “Who’s your daddy?!” repeatedly until the girls turn around – and it’s their daughters. They run to the nearest Catholic church and wash out their eyes with Holy Water. That doesn’t sound like it should be appealing but remember how I mentioned laughing at things you shouldn’t? There ya go.

Sure, the ending is a bit treacly and has that timeless Christmas movie trope of healing all wounds with the singing of carols but somehow those things still work even though you know they’re coming. I guess I’m just a sucker for Christmas spirit, neighbors looking out for each other and Currier and Ives New England villages. Here in Florida, Christmas is a whole different thing where we get milder weather (although we can get heatwaves from time to time) and almost never see any snowfall. My wife longs for a White Christmas which is something I haven’t experienced since I was a little boy in Connecticut which was so long ago that dinosaurs roamed the Earth back then. Okay, not really but you get the (snow) drift.

This might not be your cup of cocoa and I respect that but if you’re looking for guilty pleasure Christmas entertainment, you can do much worse (Santa Claus vs. the Martians anyone?) and you might, like I did, get suckered in by the sticky sweet ending. Christmas can do funny things to a person.

WHY RENT THIS: A primer in tacky Christmas displays. Chenoweth is always a pleasure.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Disagreeable leads. Mean-spirited.
FAMILY VALUES: Some crude humor and brief bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production used LED lights on the house that allowed programmable effects and was installed by Color Kinetics of Boston. The nodes used just 7,150 watts of energy or the equivalent of four hair-dryers, and 126 amps which is the average for 1 1/3 homes.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a blooper reel as well as interviews with young actor Dylan Blue. Featurettes on filming a Christmas movie in July, the design of Buddy’s Christmas light display and the building of the house sets are also included.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.2M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (streaming only), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (streaming only), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jingle All the Way
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (Talk about a Christmas gift…)
NEXT: The Holly and the Quill concludes

Baby Mama


Tina Fey is just miffed that Amy Poehler won't share the Pringles.

Tina Fey is just miffed that Amy Poehler won’t share the Pringles.

(2008) Comedy (Universal) Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Steve Martin, Dax Shepard, Sigourney Weaver, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor, James Rebhorn, Will Forte, Fred Armisen, Romany Malco, Denis O’Hare, Stephen Mailer, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Kevin Collins, John Hodgman, Thomas McCarthy, Jason Mantzoukas, Dave Finkel, Felicity Stiverson.  Directed by Michael McCullers

Starting up a family is always something of an overwhelming proposition, never more so for a single parent who intends to stay a single parent. It is darn near impossible for an infertile single parent.

Kate Holbrook (Fey) is a capable, ambitious woman and that has played out into an executive position for a health food store chain, a beautiful apartment in Manhattan that is absolutely empty when she comes home. Not that she’s complaining, mind you – she owns her choices, after all. However, she is feeling her biological clock ticking down. She wants a baby in the worst way, and in her own organized fashion is doing what it takes. She’s tried adoption, and has been turned down. She’s tried artificial insemination, but her doctor (O’Hare) informs her that her uterus is not really suitable for impregnation and that an actual pregnancy would be a one in a million shot.

Desperate, she decides surrogacy might be the answer. She goes to the Chaffee Bicknell agency, whose titular head (Weaver) is despicably fertile, but promises to get a surrogate mother for Kate’s baby that passes the most rigid scrutiny. Chaffee sends Kate to Angie Ostrowski (Poehler), who couldn’t be any more different from the prim, cultured Kate. While Kate frets over every detail, Angie tends to be less detail-oriented than, say, a ten-year-old. While Kate keeps her apartment neat and clean, Angie prefers a more let-it-all-hang-out attitude. Kate dresses in smart business suits; Angie’s style can only be described as rural whore. In fact, if there were trailer parks in New York, Angie and her conniving boyfriend Carl (Shepard) would probably be living in one. If Kate is Masterpiece Theater, Angie and Carl are The Dukes of Hazzard.

Despite this, the two women find themselves bonding against all odds and decide to go through with the pregnancy. Not long after, Angie and Carl have a big fight and Angie shows up on Kate’s door, having nowhere else to go. Now, instead of preparing for a new baby in the home, Kate is having to live with a woman whose maturity level isn’t far above the baby she’s carrying.

The stresses begin to pile up. Kate is given a huge project at work by her new age boss (Martin) that may make unwelcome changes to a neighborhood, whose residents are not happy about the prospect, led by the handsome smoothie store owner Rob (Kinnear) who Kate is beginning to develop feelings for. On top of that, Angie is driving Kate crazy, and doesn’t appear to be all that concerned with the health and well-being of the baby – and Angie’s sins are rapidly catching up with her. Kate’s dream of being a mom is beginning to look like a longshot at best.

Fey has proven herself one of the funniest women working today, and those who loved her on 30 Rock are going to love her here. Poehler, so good in Blades of Glory and on SNL, does some of the best work of her career here. Martin, who has been mostly sticking to family comedies, returns to the silliness that characterized him in the ‘70s. Kinnear has carved out a niche as the nice, solid guy and makes a fine foil for Fey – hey, alliteration! ER’s Tierney plays Fey’s married mom of a sister and performs capably. Worth mentioning is Holland Taylor as Kate’s overbearing mom – she’s one of those dependable character actresses who almost always improves every movie she’s in. Shepard does the sleazy manipulator as well as anyone – if you saw him in Let’s Go to Prison, you pretty much know what to expect here.

Fey and Poehler work exceedingly well together, so much so that it leaves you hoping that they will continue to make movies together although as of yet they haven’t. The laughs come crisply but not at the expense of the characters and story.

This is definitely aimed at a female audience, and I found Da Queen laughing much more at things that only puzzled my poor, underdeveloped male brain. Not relating with the messy details of pregnancy and birthing, I found myself having a hard time relating to characters going through it and wanting to go through it.  .

Think of this as a chick comedy. If you’ve had a baby, or are pregnant, you are going to find this much more funny than the rest of us. That doesn’t mean that it’s completely without redemption, however. Fey and Poehler are a very good team, and their scenes together are the highlights of the movie. Bottom line, this is pretty well-written and plotted, although it isn’t difficult to discern where this is heading.

WHY RENT THIS: Great comedic chemistry between Fey and Poehler. Women tend to find this funnier than men do so if you’re of the fairer sex, this works nicely. Great support cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Women tend to find this funnier than men do so if you’re of the male sex, this might be too much for you. Predictable in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of jokes about female plumbing. There’s also some foul language and a drug reference.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Boo Boo Busters company that professionally childproofs Kate’s home is based on a real company by the same name in California. They supplied many of the child safety devices seen in the film, including the infamous toilet seat lock that “doesn’t work.”  Poehler eventually used that company to childproof her own home when she had children.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a featurette on Saturday Night Live and its influence on the movies.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $64.2M on a $30M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Housemaid

The Promotion


The Promotion

Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly have a competition to see which one can look the stiffest.

(2008) Comedy (Dimension) John C Reilly, Seann William Scott, Jenna Fischer, Lily Taylor, Fred Armisen, Gil Bellows, Bobby Cannavale, Rick Gonzalez, Chris Conrad, Nathan Geist, Adrian Martinez, Masi Oka, Angel Guzman, Joshua Eber, Mario Larraza. Directed by Steve Conrad

 

Ambition is a fine thing sometimes. We all want to improve our circumstances, to provide better for ourselves and our families. Generally speaking we do this through getting new jobs or promotions through the companies we work for. Getting these, however, is much easier said than done.

Doug Stauber (Scott) is a mild-mannered assistant manager at a Chicago-area grocery store. He’s extremely good at it, although he isn’t what you’d call a forceful personality. When the chain he works for announces that they’ll soon be opening a new store in the area, he figures he’s a shoo-in for the job to the point where he sinks all of the savings of himself and his wife Jen (Fischer) into a down payment for a house that they can only afford if he gets the job which he’s sure he will.

But not so fast there Sparky. Also in the running is Richard Wehlner (Reilly), who has just moved his family to Chicago from Quebec. He is a recovering alcoholic and at one time ran with a biker gang who has turned his life around.  Getting this position would really help solidify his standing and help he and his wife Lori (Taylor), a hot-headed Scot, finally get over the hump.

Now if this sounds like we’re going to see 90 minutes of two men trying to sabotage one another, think again. Mostly the two guys sabotage themselves. This is not a Judd Apatow comedy by any stretch of the imagination, although the key elements for it might be there. Had Apatow gotten hold of this, it would have been a very different movie.

The thing is that both Doug and Richard are essentially nice guys. You’re not really sure who to root for (although Doug, who also does the voice-over narration, seems to be the surrogate for the audience) since there’s no real bad guy, although occasionally the two both make weak attempts to undercut the other.

Scott, best known as Stifler in the American Pie movies (and upcoming American Reunion) usually plays characters that are much more over-the-top than this one. Really, I found this to be the kind of character usually played by Paul Rudd – nice, mostly mellow with just a hint of wild man in him. Reilly, on the other hand, has that wild man in his past big time. Still he’s much more of a hangdog now, like a dog who’s been to obedience school and been neutered in the process. Few do that kind of role better than Reilly and he does it well here.

Taylor is a very talented actress more known for her indie films but she shines in her brief on-screen appearances here, stealing scenes effortlessly with her charm and comic timing. Fischer is sometimes underrated because of her beauty and sexuality but she does a fine job as the unsuspecting wife of Doug, unaware that the job he said was in the bag really isn’t.

There are some nice bits here (like an apology to community leaders after the company determines was a racially-motivated incident that turns horribly, horribly wrong) and director Conrad, one of the finest writers in Hollywood who you’ve probably never heard of tackles his first feature directing job with a surprisingly sure hand.

The whole movie is pretty low key which can be a double edged sword. A lot of comedies will “tell” viewers when to laugh, either using visual cues, sound effects or cues from the score. You don’t really get that here; Conrad trusts in the intelligence of his audience to know what’s funny. Of course, that generally means they don’t always do.

I give the film big props for trying something new but there isn’t enough tension here to keep the viewer’s interest, nor are there enough laughs to overcome that. This goes down as a good idea with good intentions that didn’t quite translate to a good movie.

WHY RENT THIS: A competitive comedy where both the leads are actually decent guys – a very innovative set-up.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: So low-key in places that you wonder if you’re supposed to laugh.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of foul language, a good deal of it sexual. There’s also a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally scheduled for release in May 2007 but was delayed for a full year, mainly to add the cameo appearance of Oka who at the time was starring in “Heroes.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel but other than that the usual suspects. 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $424,030 on an unreported production budget; I think it likely that the movie lost money, probably quite a bit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Handsome Harry

Easy A


Easy A

Emma Stone is going to stand out in any crowd - particularly dressed like THAT!

(2010) Teen Sex Comedy (Screen Gems) Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm MacDowell, Stanley Tucci, Aly Michalka, Fred Armisen, Dan Byrd.  Directed by Will Gluck

Who we are perceived to be is very rarely who we really are. Sometimes people just make up their minds about us and nothing we can say or do will change that. Other times we have a hand in deliberately misleading others about our true natures.

Olive (Stone) is an ordinary girl at East Ojai High School. She doesn’t really stand out among her peers; she’s just kind of there. Nobody really cares enough about her to pick on her, so she might well count her blessings. In a John Hughes movie, her classmates might have been tempted to play cruel jokes on her.

Her friend Rhiannon (Michalka) is anxious for Olive to come camping with her and her hippie parents, while Olive would rather have had her eyeballs spooned out of their sockets and fed to her as a frozen desert treat, so she makes up a college boyfriend to get out of it, preferring to spend the weekend alone. Monday in school, Rhiannon pressures Olive to tell her all about her weekend and Olive, mostly to get Rhiannon off her back, fibs about how far she went with her imaginary boyfriend. This is overheard by Marianne (Bynes), the Bible-thumping daughter of the local pastor (Armisen) who might have been the offspring of the Church Lady had she been raped by Satan.

Before you know it, Olive has a reputation as being somewhat available. At first, she’s appalled but as she finally begins to get noticed, particularly by the attractive Woodchuck Todd (Badgley) whom she’s had a crush on since the 8th grade, she begins to enjoy her new role a little bit.

When her good friend Brandon (Byrd) confesses to her that he’s being bullied for being suspected of being gay (suspicions which were pretty much dead on), he pleads with her to spread a rumor about the two of them getting on. She decides to make it more than a rumor by meeting him at a party and having loud but faux sex in a bedroom. This changes Brandon’s status from zero to hero and soon Olive’s dance card is getting filled with every outcast in East Ojai, all willing to pay her what they can to get their manhood card punched by Olive.

Of course complications begin to set in, some derived by the troubled marriage of foxy English teacher Mr. Griffith (Church) and his estranged wife (Kudrow), the school guidance counselor who made the incredibly foolish mistake of sleeping with one of the students. Olive offers to take the bullet for Mrs. Griffith which leads to worse complications, including Rhiannon’s decision to leave Olive’s shadow and join the Bible thumpers. Olive is fortunate to have the world’s best parents (Tucci and Clarkson) but can even they extricate her from the mess she’s in?

Gluck hasn’t exactly set the cinematic world on fire (see Fired Up!) but he’s done some fine work on some cult classic television shows (including the sorely missed “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and “Grosse Pointe”) and this is the Will Gluck we get here. The writing is also inspired, with sharp dialogue that while suffering from the “far too glib to be teenagers” syndrome, at least is clever.

While the plot is a little bit sitcom-y, it is handled with enough creativity to make it stand out among most comedies last year. Part of the reason it stands out is the perfect casting of Stone. You can tell that a casting director gets it right when you can’t imagine anyone else in the role, and so it is with Olive and Emma Stone. She has always performed capably in supporting roles; here she makes the most of a leading lady opportunity and shows that she can carry a movie on her own. She’s the center of this movie, so having the right actress in the part was crucial.

Kudrow and Church, both terrific actors in their own right, do good work here, as does Bynes in what was supposed to be her final role (she had planned to retire from acting, but later changed her mind). In fact, I thought Bynes – who I’d always dismissed as being something of a one-note performer – was surprising in a role that was a stretch and also poked some fun at her image. I look forward to her further stretching her reach.

All in all this is a reasonably (and somewhat surprisingly) smart movie that takes subjects of teen sex and the importance of peer acceptance, subjects that have been done to death, and makes something new and original of them. I’m not saying that Easy A sets the world on fire, but it is a surprisingly good movie that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would.

WHY RENT THIS: Stone makes good on her leading lady potential. Snappy dialogue is the highlight of a surprisingly well-written story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Clichés abound.

FAMILY VALUES: There are definitely some bad words and thematic elements that include teen sexuality, statutory rape and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The opening scene of the movie was also Emma Stone’s audition, captured on webcam.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD has a gag reel and an audition tape made on her webcam by Emma Stone (see above). In addition, the Blu-Ray offers a trivia track and a featurette on movies of the 80s and how they influenced this movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $75.0M on an $8M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Switch