Stronger


Love makes us stronger.

(2017) Biographical Drama (Roadside Attractions) Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Nate Richman, Lenny Clarke, Patricia O’Neil, Clancy Brown, Katherine Fitzgerald, Danny McCarthy, Frankie Shaw, Carlos Sanz, Michelle Forziati, Sean McGuirk, Karen Scalia, Judith McIntyre, Dr. Jeffrey Kalish, Cassandra Cato Louis, Rena Maliszewski. Directed by David Gordon Green

 

In the aftermath of tragedy, it is perhaps the glory of humanity that we rise up and overcome. Even the most horrific of circumstances can bring out our resilience to an almost miraculous degree. It is in these situations that we as a species ten to show the most grace.

Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) is a working class guy from Chelmsford who lives and breathes Boston sports, carves roast chicken at a local Costco and hangs out with his friends after work. There is the matter of a girl, Erin Hurley (Maslany) whom Jeff is absolutely crazy about but he always seems to find a way to mess it up. She justifiably complains that he never shows up; he promises that this time, he will.

This time is at the Boston Marathon in which she is running; he promises to show up, awaiting her at the finish line with a goofy sign. Well, this time he shows up and happens to be standing right next to one of the homemade bombs that went off at the 2013 Marathon. Both his legs are blown off by the blast. When he wakes up in the hospital and is informed about the extent of his injuries, he cracks a joke about being Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump.

He is unprepared for the public adulation that comes from being a survivor. An iconic photo of him being cared for by an unknown man in a cowboy hat (Sanz) has made him a celebrity. His blowzy mom (Richardson) is all about using his new-found fame to his advantage. Erin, overwhelmed by guilt, reconnects with him and becomes nurse and lover.

But Jeff is not the most mature of men to begin with and he self-medicates as the pressures of fame and the pain of physical therapy begin to become unbearable. He has become a symbol but he doesn’t want to be one; he is not interested in offering hope to the people of Boston and his old habits that tore him and Erin apart initially begin to resurface.

David Gordon Green is one of those directors who seem to have a loyal hardcore following but rarely gets the recognition he deserves. This is probably his most commercial film yet (which considering that one of his movies is The Pineapple Express is saying something) and certainly his most accessible.

He pushes all the right buttons here but admirably doesn’t make the film as cliché-ridden as it might be. He keeps things low-key and realistic. Bauman is far from heroic for most of this although by the end of the movie he seems to be accepting his role and begins to use it in a positive way.

Gyllenhaal is at the center of the film. He has become a regular contender for Oscar gold and this performance might very well put him in the mix again this year. He makes Jeff very human, very vulnerable and very flawed and yet charming enough with just enough heart o’ gold kinda stuff that we root for him even as his drunken antics and commitment phobia make us clench our collective teeth. One must also point out that the CGI that renders Gyllenhaal as legless is some of the most seamless and well done I’ve seen.

Maslany has been acclaimed for her performances in Orphan Black, shows that she has the chops to become a serious movie actress. She is much more low-key than Gyllenhaal here but she is really the heart and soul of the film. She is wracked by guilt, knowing if not for her that Jeff wouldn’t have been in harm’s way that Patriot’s Day. She recognizes that deep down Jeff has a good soul but he is also weak and this kind of burden doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future of a relationship but as long as he is trying, she knows she must hang in there for him.

The supporting cast is pretty strong as well, with particular kudos to British actress Richardson as Jeff’s overbearing mom and veteran character actor Clancy Brown as his estranged Dad. They are a bit New England Working Class typecast, but not knowing Bauman’s family at all I have to think that there is at least a germ of truth in there at least.

This isn’t always an easy film to watch. The movie doesn’t really dwell on the crime so much as the recovery and that’s a good thing – you can always watch Patriots Day if you are more interested in the hunt for the bombers. Still, the filmmakers pull no punches. We don’t get treated to endless scenes of agonizing physical therapy but more Bauman’s reaction to it. He becomes depressed and frightened of the staggering unwanted responsibilities he is forced to face. And he turns away from it, until he finally agrees – reluctantly I might add – to meet the angel of mercy who helped him on the worst day of his life.

Bauman doesn’t change overnight although it’s pretty close. There is certainly a turning point and it seems that Bauman makes a decision to live and be the kind of man he always had the potential to be. While I might question the night and day presentation of Bauman’s change of heart, there’s no doubt judged by his activities of late that there was one – a determination to become better. That’s what true strength is.

REASONS TO GO: Gyllenhaal could have an outside shot at an Oscar nomination. The CGI is absolutely perfect. The film is emotionally gritty and cathartic. The portrayal of Jeff Bauman pulls no punches.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is occasionally guilty of being a bit manipulative.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity, some disturbing images of carnage, violence, sex and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The release date for the film comes on co-star Tatiana Maslany’s 32nd birthday.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
TBA

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Mistress America


Just two broke girls talkin'.

Just two broke girls talkin’.

(2015) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Michael Chernus, Rebecca Henderson, Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung, Charlie Gillette, Shelby Rebecca Wong, Joel Marsh Garland, Andrea Chen, Seth Barrish, Shana Dowdeswell, Dean Wareham, Amy Warren, Shoba Narayanan, Morgan Lynch, Adrea Teasdale. Directed by Noah Baumbach

There is New York, and then there is everywhere else. I suppose that those who live there have every right to feel a kind of smug superiority about where they live; after all, they have world class museums, world class concert halls, world class nightclubs, world class restaurants…hell, anyone who is bored in New York isn’t trying very hard.

Tracy (Kirke) is becoming a New Yorker. Well, she’s becoming a college student at Barnard. Keen to be a writer, she’s not the sort that fits in easily. That’s especially true lately, as her mom (Henderson) is getting ready to re-marry. Tracy yearns to become a member of the literary society at Barnard, who celebrate publication of a new author by sneaking into their room at night and throwing a pie in their face while they sleep. Rad, eh? However, she meets rejection even here. Tracy realizes to get in with the literary crowd she’s going to need something special to write about.

As part of her mom’s new marriage, she is going to have a new stepsister, so upon her mom’s insistence she arranges to meet her soon-to-be-sister, Brooke (Gerwig). Tracy takes an immediate liking to Brooke. She’s almost ten years older and established in the city; she’s getting ready to open a fabulous new restaurant and has some really cool ideas. She hangs out with cool people and lives in a loft that’s zoned for commercial use. She’s full of energy and life and talks a mile a minute, sometimes about deep things but sometimes just idle chatter.

When one of the investors in her restaurant – the one who happens to be her boyfriend – pulls out, Brooke is left dangling in the wind. She has no choice but to go to the home of her arch-nemesis Mamie-Claire (Lind) in the Godforsaken wilderness of Greenwich, Connecticut and demand her due. You see, years ago, Mamie-Claire stole an idea of Brooke’s and made a fortune out of it. That wasn’t the only thing she stole though – she took two of Brooke’s cats and her boyfriend at the time Dylan (Chernus) who was himself independently wealthy but is now Mamie-Claire’s somewhat henpecked husband. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

But things go from bad to worse as the discovery is made that Tracy has been writing a story with Brooke as the lead character – and not everything is complimentary. Brooke is feeling betrayed and everybody around her – even Mamie-Claire – think that was a dick move. But was it?

I do think Baumbach and Gerwig, who co-wrote this thing, were out to make a modern screwball comedy. The rhythms of the dialogue are very similar and the patter is snappy, although not in a retro way. I’m thinking that this is a brilliant move on their part because in many ways Gerwig is a modern Carole Lombard.

But as smart an idea it is, the ambitions here are a bit more than the pair can chew. The trouble with screwball comedies is that they are a bitch to pull off right, and there are so many examples of great films in that genre out there that unless you’re damn near perfect from screenplay to final film, your movie is just going to suffer by comparison.

The movie here isn’t perfect. It starts out with a couple of very annoying characters whose dialogue is so unrealistic, whose attitudes are just so smug and self-important that it’s incredibly hard to do anything but despise them. If I ran into Brooke and Tracy at a cocktail party, I’d quickly find other people to chat with – they’re way too pretentious for my taste. When I think of indie films that Baumbach and Gerwig have collaborated on previously, the first half of the movie has the worst characteristics of their worst efforts. I really was ready to write this one off before I was halfway through the movie.

Fortunately it gets better. In fact, it improves a hell of a lot and the scenes set in Greenwich are inspired. Gerwig always seems to do better in large ensembles than in smaller groups; when it’s essentially just her and Tracy with Tracy being a shadowy image of Brooke, the movie is just annoying. When Brooke has a lot of people to bounce off of, the movie is enjoyable. I think that Gerwig is one of those actresses who needs to be diluted a little bit and the more people she has to interact with, the better she is. Da Queen has said that she can only take Gerwig in small doses and I can see why she has that effect on her; there is a bit of a narcissistic quality to the characters Gerwig plays in Baumbach films and those types of characters tend to rub Da Queen the wrong way.

I was very torn with this movie. The first part is excruciating but the second part I really liked. So how does one rate a movie like this? Straight down the middle; a zero for the first half of the film, a ten for the second for a cumulative score of five. Be warned that the first part of the movie is hard to sit through but the second half makes the first half almost worth it.

REASONS TO GO: Gets better as it goes along. Gerwig is always charming.
REASONS TO STAY: Horrible first half. Characters act and speak like they’re in a 21st century screwball comedy.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of foul language and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Lola Versus Gerwig played a character named Lola. In Gone Girl Kirke played a character named Greta.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/31/15: Rotten Tomatoes 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Frances Ha
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Digging for Fire

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Spider-Man goes electric.

Spider-Man goes electric.

(2014) Superhero (Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Jamie Foxx, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Marton Csokas, B.J. Novak, Michael Massee, Louis Cancelmi, Felicity Jones, Max Charles, Sarah Gordon, Jorge Vega, Bill Heck, Helen Stern, Kari Coleman. Directed by Marc Webb

It is inevitable that when a superhero shows up, eventually a super-villain will as well. With great power comes great responsibility but also comes great angst and great greed as well.

Despite Peter Parker’s (Garfield) a.k.a. Spider-Man promise to stay away from Gwen Stacy (Stone), daughter of the police captain (Leary) who died in the first ASM film, the feelings between the two are so strong that they can’t stay away from each other, at least until Peter starts seeing disapproving visions of her dear old dad and the guilt forces him to break up with her. Or she gets tired of all the on-again, off-again stuff and tells him to take a hike.

Peter is also haunted by the death of his parents, dad Richard (Scott) who once worked for the evil Oscorp empire, and mom (Davidtz) whom Peter remembers only fragments of. He finally confronts his Aunt May (Field) about them. May, who sometimes comes off as too saintly in both the comic and the first film trilogy, actually acts with a completely understandable anger – wasn’t she there for him? Wasn’t her love enough?

He’s also busy taking care of things in New York City, including taking down a crazed Russian mobster who will eventually come to be known as the Rhino (Giamatti). His best friend Harry Osborne (DeHaan) returns to town as his diseased and despotic father Norman (Cooper) lays dying, leaving Harry to pick up the pieces, take over Oscorp and fend off the scheming Donald Menken (Feore) who has an agenda of his own. Harry also discovers that he may soon share his father’s fate and only the blood of a certain Spider-Man might contain the clue that can cure him.

On top of that there’s a new super-villain in town. Mild mannered Max Dillon (Foxx) who develops a man-crush on Spidey after he saves him from being hit by a bus has a terrifying accident as he is shocked by high power lines and falls into a tank full of genetically altered electric eels which leave him badly burned but with the ability to shoot electric charges from his hands and eventually turn into living electric current.

Max, now going by the name Electro, has felt ignored and marginalized all his life. He is tired of being invisible (which ironically becomes one of his superpowers) and now that he can cause so much carnage feels vindicated that people can “see” him now and his freakish appearance is a small price to pay. He also feels betrayed by Spider-Man, his buddy who forgot his name.

All this leads to a pair of climactic battles as betrayals lead to rage which leads to a tragic confrontation that will alter Spider-Man’s life forever. Which is essentially how the second installment in any superhero franchise tends to go.

The second film in the Sam Raimi Spider-trilogy turned out to be one of the best superhero movies ever. This one, sadly, falls more into the category of the third Raimi movie which was sunk by too many supervillains and not enough memorable characters mainly because the film doesn’t get to develop them too much other than Foxx’s Electro and even he doesn’t get a whole lot of background.

What does get some background is the romance between Gwen and Peter which is a double-edged sword. Some of the most natural sequences in the movie involve those two and the banter between the two of them reflects the real-life romance that has developed between Stone and Garfield, eerily reflecting the real-life romance between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst that developed in the first Spider-trilogy. However, spending as much time on the romance as Webb does tends to mess with the momentum of the film, creating awkward breaks between action sequences and a sense that Webb is trying to make a movie that is all things to all audiences. Columbia execs have a history of becoming too involved in the Spider-Man films and I get a sense that studio interference may have occurred here as well.

Webb shows some deft touch with the action sequences and his vision of Electro is nothing short of amazing, worthy of a high-profile superhero franchise such as this one. One sequence in which Electro disappears into an ordinary electric outlet to go and wreak havoc is so well done that it looks as if it could have actually happened. That’s excellent effects in my book.

The character of Gwen Stacy doesn’t work as well for me. Stone described her as the “brains” of the operation which is a bit of a departure from the comic book in which the nerdy Peter, one of the first true science geeks, was capable of being the strategist but it is Gwen who comes to his rescue time after time by figuring out solutions to problems Spider-Man is having and incredibly, as an intern at Oscorp in biochemistry for whatever reason has learned how to work the electric grid of New York City which Oscorp runs. That part doesn’t ring true at all and took me right out of the film. I don’t mind smart women in movies but make her realistically clever please.

Garfield however continues to impress as both Parker and Spider-Man. In the latter role he has the fluid movements that make him look just non-human enough to be different. In the former role, he isn’t quite as brooding as he was in the first film (until near the end) but he certainly shows the inner conflicts that come from wanting to do the right thing but knowing that doing so could potentially put those he loves in danger. Some critics have groused about the smartaleck wisecracking that Spider-Man does, but that is part of the comic book personality of the character and is Parker’s way of coping with his own self-doubt.

This isn’t the sequel I was hoping for. I’m a big fan of Webb and I like the way Garfield plays both Peter and Spider-Man. I was hoping after the unnecessary second origin movie in ten years for the character that they might take Garfield’s strong performance in the title role and build on it. To some extent they do but their ambitions exceed the realistic here and they wind up making a movie that is a bit of a mess. It’s still plenty entertaining and has all the thrills, action and emotions that you need to make a great summer blockbuster, but they also failed to learn from Raimi’s mistakes. It’s worth seeing for the action, for Garfield and for some of the emotional sequences but the movie is nonetheless very flawed.

REASONS TO GO: The Electro sequences are amazing. Some emotional high points.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many characters and subplots. The flow of the film doesn’t quite work. Logical issues.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of superhero violence and peril, plus a brief scene that may be disturbing for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first Spider-Man movie to film in New York City where the series is set – it is also the largest production to date to film in the state of New York.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/17/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 53/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Words and Pictures

The Vicious Kind


Don't you just hate going to the grocery store and forgetting what you went there to buy?

Don’t you just hate going to the grocery store and forgetting what you went there to buy?

(2009) Drama (72nd Street) Adam Scott, Brittany Snow, Alex Frost, J.K. Simmons, Vittorio Brahm, Bill Buell, Alysia Reiner, Kate Krieger, Jordan Reid Berkow, Anne Gill, Emily Oehler, Jim Ford, Kevin Rogers, Robert Bizik, Rebecca Bond Nikeas. Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

Every so often you’ll run into someone who’s a real asshole. They say cruel things, express opinions that are deplorable, and their actions tell you that they are nothing more than self-centered misogynistic jerks.

Did I say misogynistic? Well, that’s because we’re talking about Caleb Sinclaire (Scott), a construction worker in Connecticut. He is estranged from his father (Simmons) and a bit overly protective of his virginal younger brother Peter (Frost) who is just back from college for Thanksgiving. He’s also brought his new girlfriend Emma Gainsborough (Snow), a sweetie whom Peter is over the moon for.

Caleb, not so much. He is deeply suspicious of her and when he hears the story of how they met (at a party she went to with a group of fraternity boys) he’s quite sure she slept with the lot of them, despite her denials that she slept with any of them. To Caleb, all women are cheating whores. His girlfriend Hannah (Berkow), to whom Emma bears a strong resemblance, was just kicked to the curb for that very thing.

Due to his strained relationship with Dad, Caleb excuses himself from the holiday but continues to run into Emma in odd places, mainly because both of them smoke and go outside to the same places for smoke breaks. An odd friendship begins to form…and an attraction that is a little disquieting to Caleb because he’d never hurt his brother, one of the few people on Earth that Caleb gives a damn about but he can’t deny what he’s feeling for Emma.

And Emma can’t deny Peter’s tender feelings for her as well. Peter is willing to give Emma his virginity which is no small thing – and yet she is beginning to be attracted to bad boy Caleb. As their encounters grow more and more erotically charged, Caleb embarks on an emotional rollercoaster that ranges from violent and threatening to weeping and helpless. Emma realizes that she is soon going to have to choose between the two brothers – the sweet but kind of bland Peter or the complex and unpredictable Caleb.

This is one of those movies that is out there with the very best of intentions but doesn’t quite hit the mark for one reason or another. It’s not for lack of trying however. Adam Scott, who’s been around and done a few fairly well-known roles (as his one in Step Brothers) shines here as Caleb. The character is a pretty tough nut to crack and as the movie goes on we do get some insight as to why Caleb behaves the way he does. That still doesn’t excuse him from assault, attempted rape, cruelty and yes – viciousness. It makes it hard to root for him even when he does start showing signs of becoming a new man.

Snow isn’t half-bad either although her performance tends to get ignored by a lot of critics who seem to be zeroing in on Scott – although I can’t blame them to be truthful. Still, Snow’s Emma is not everything she appears to be; she has a dark side which manifests first in the smoking habit she keeps from her boyfriend to her lust for Caleb and then finally in…well, that one you’ll have to find out for yourself.

The trouble here is that the filmmakers seem to think that nearly everybody cheats on their partners (nearly everybody in the movie does). The movie has a kind of cynical world view in which it’s okay to be a bitch/bastard to others because sooner or later they’re going to screw you over if you don’t do it to them first. I’m not sure I agree with that – while there are certainly people who don’t mind sticking it to other people, not everyone is that way in my experience – and thus I find a hard time relating to the film, which might contribute to my lower score for it. So that’s something to take into account.

Otherwise the filmmaking itself is pretty good from a technical standpoint. This is a pretty good looking film. It just didn’t reach out and grab me the way it should have with this kind of subject matter. Maybe the problem was that Scott gave too good a performance and the script was too vicious. Or maybe I’m one of those vicious critics who don’t get it. Golly, I hope not. So I’ll just leave it at this wasn’t my cup of tea but it just might be yours.

WHY RENT THIS: Snow and Scott deliver some pretty powerful performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script seems to have a pretty low opinion of people. Caleb is such a douche sometimes you finally give up on him.

FAMILY VALUES: The sexuality is a bit in your face as is the bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie received two Independent Spirit award nominations (Adam Scott for Best Actor and Lee Toland Krieger for Best Screenplay) in 2010.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Family Stone

FINAL RATING:4.5/10

NEXT: Playing For Keeps

Wreck-It Ralph


Wreck-It Ralph

Arcade or Atari 2600?

(2012) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O’Neill, Mindy Kaling, Adam Corolla, Horatio Sanz, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg, Joe LoTruglio, Roger Craig Smith. Directed by Rich Moore

 

Modern kids may not get the allure of the arcade in the same way their parents do. Who among us, children of the 80s, don’t remember eagerly headed to the arcade, quarters in pocket, to try out the latest and greatest from Namco, Konami, Nintendo and Atari? And await eagerly as those great arcade games to arrive on our videogame consoles like the Intellivision and the Atari.

One of those classic games (not really but for the sake of the film) was Fix-It Felix, Jr. In the game Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly), a gorilla-like brute with ginormous arms and hands wrecks the Niceland apartment building, causing damage galore mainly because they built it on the site of his beloved tree stump where he lives (like all 80s arcade games, don’t worry so much about the plot and just go with it). The damage would be repaired by Fix-It Felix (McBrayer) and his handy dandy magic hammer. The citizens of Niceland would aid Felix by baking him pies and giving him other power-ups. When the building was completely repaired, the citizens would give Felix a shiny medal and hurl Ralph from the roof into a mud pit below.

Thus it has been for 30 years and frankly, Ralph’s getting a little tired of it. You see, when the arcade closes, in Toy Story fashion the characters of the game have a life of their own, meeting and mingling in a Game Central Station (arrived at through their power cords) and hanging out at the Tapper Lounge for a brew (of root beer – for those who remember that classic game). Ralph himself attends a 12-step program for videogame baddies who have encounter session meetings where they affirm that just because they’re bad guys in their games doesn’t make them bad people – they’re just fulfilling a necessary role but Ralph isn’t hearing any of this.

And you can hardly blame him. He is regarded with a bit of fear and a lot of being looked down upon. He is not invited to the 30th anniversary party, with the 8-bit residents of Niceland fearing that he’ll just wreck the party. He doesn’t live with the rest of his fellow game characters in Niceland – he lives alone in the dump, a massive pile of bricks. He hates his life and just wants people to like him. He wants to be a hero.

He gets the notion that if he wins a medal he can live in the Niceland penthouse. While at Tapper’s drowning his sorrows in root beer he gets wind of a medal that’s available for those who beat the hot new game Hero’s Duty. There, a bunch of space marines commanded by the crusty Sgt. Calhoun (Lynch) take on a swarm of space bugs. Knowing that if he’s killed outside his game that he can’t be regenerated, Ralph is a bit wary with the bugs being kind of scary in a robo-bug kind of way.  Still, so great is his need that he ascends the tower himself and grabs a medal. This leads to a premature evacuation which lands him with a hatchling robo-bug in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game.

There he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), a somewhat annoying wannabe racer who has some messed-up code. She’s a glitch, whose body de-rezzes at inopportune moments. She and Ralph are more alike than un-alike; she dreams of acceptance as a full racer. Like Ralph, she needs that medal and winds up using it to get entered in a race that determines whose avatar gets to be used in the arcade the next day. This is presided over by King Kandy (Tudyk), the occasionally benevolent ruler of Sugar Rush.

But there is trouble in paradise and King  Kandy for some mysterious reason seems hell-bent on keeping Vanellope from racing. Felix and Calhoun have come over to Sugar Rush to search for Ralph and the bug, respectively – and a little bit of hanky panky maybe. And that robo-bug that made it over to Sugar Rush has been busy and things are going to get a whole lot of ugly a whole lot of quickly.

Moore whose background is in TV animation (directing episodes of “The Simpsons” as well as “Futurama”) gives this a plausible look. While there are elements that are awfully Toy Story-ish it’s so nifty seeing these characters interact you wonder why it took this long to get it to happen (and I’m sure it had something to acquiring rights and paying fees). That aspect is pretty delightful, particularly to those of us who were active gamers back in the day. However, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword – most kids, to whom this is mainly being marketed, won’t have a clue about some of the more obscure games although their dad may get a manly tear or two in the corner of their eye when some of the characters make an appearance.

One interesting aspect is the role women – and young girls – play in the movie. Although gaming seems to be a more male territory for the most part, women have become more and more involved with it in recent years. Here, the primary gamer in the arcade is shown to be a young girl, and of course two of the main characters, Calhoun and Vanellope, are from the more modern games – Felix and Ralph being from the 30-year-old game.

Reilly hasn’t done a lot of animated features (this is only his second, after 9) but this seems a good role or him (Ralph even resembles him a bit facially). Reilly seems to excel in socially awkward characters with a heart of gold, and that description fits Ralph to a T. He’s awkward all right; his size and temperament make him a bit clumsy, but he means well.

Silverman’s Vanellope was in a large part inspired by her own autobiography and so she’s a natural to take on the somewhat rebellious and also socially awkward Vanellope. Like Ralph, she wants very much to fit in but as time goes by, like Ralph, she discovers that fitting in isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. As with most kid’s animated features these days, the message is that being yourself is more important than fitting in which I suppose is as a good message to preach as any.

I liked Tudyk’s channeling of Ed Wynne and Paul Winchell for his King Kandy character and I was impressed by Lynch’s tough-as-nails Calhoun. McBrayer’s character isn’t too far off from the one he plays on “30 Rock” albeit  with a little more focus.

This is a world of bright colors and kinetic motion so even the really wee members of your family will be fascinated by it. While the appearances of certain 80s-era mainstays might go right over the heads of the target audience, their parents will be lost in a nostalgic glow from the retro opening credits to the VERY retro closing credits. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Also to be noted is the short “Paperman” that precedes the movie. It’s very touching and very Disney and has a good shot at getting an Animated Short Oscar nod.

REASONS TO GO: Fun trip down memory lane. A must-see for videogame junkies.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much time spent in Sugar Rush game (due to Vanellope’s glitch nature)

FAMILY VALUES:  The violence here is no more than you’d find in a classic arcade game and there’s a bit of rude humor as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The game “Fix-It Felix Jr.” was inspired by Donkey Kong.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100. The reviews are actually pretty good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tron

CLASSIC VIDEO GAME LOVERS: Video game characters show up from a wide variety of classic games both arcade and console, including Q-Bert, Burger Time, Tapper, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man and Street Fighter.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Never Let Me Go

Big Fan


Big Fan

Patton Oswalt is a New York Giants fan and lives with his mom. 'Nuff said.

(First Independent) Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rappaport, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Serafina Fiore, Gino Cafarelli, Jonathan Hamm, Matt Servitto. Directed by Robert Siegel

Sports fandom is a double edged sword. It can bring us enjoyment, great memories and a sense of belonging to something bigger. It can also grow into obsession and overwhelm everything else in our lives.

Paul Aufiero (Oswalt) is a New York Giants fan. That might be an understatement; it might be more accurate to say that he lives for the New York Giants. His life revolves around them. He works as a parking garage attendant and lives in a closet-sized room in his mom’s Staten Island apartment. That might not be so bad if he were just starting out, but pudgy Paul is 35 with no ambition for family or career. All he really cares about is his beloved Giants.

Every night after he gets off work, he calls into the Sports Dogg radio show as Paul from Staten Island, where he has some small degree of celebrity. Usually his rants involve a reaction to what his nemesis, Philadelphia Phil has already said. Paul carefully writes down on a legal pad exactly what he’s going to say, then reads it into the phone, pacing his room like a caged animal. His rants usually wake up his light-sleeping mom (Kurtz) who beats on the wall and yells at her son to shut up, it’s 2am. He yells back, a kind of Fred and Wilma Flintstone with a New York Italian edge.

One night, he and his buddy – his only friend really – Sal (Corrigan) spy their hero, Quantrell Bishop (Hamm), a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback, at a Staten Island gas station. Impulsively they follow him to a dodgy Brooklyn neighborhood where it appears Bishop might be buying drugs, then to a downtown Manhattan strip club. The buddies follow him in, pay for their ten dollar Budweisers and work up enough nerve to meet their hero.

He’s pleasant enough at first, but when they let slip that they followed him all the way from Staten Island, he gets the impression they’re trying to shake him down. Enraged, he beats Paul within an inch of his life. Paul wakes up three days later after emergency surgery. Bishop has been suspended, the Giants are losing and the police, particularly in the person of Detective Velarde (Servitto), are anxious to bring charges against the football player and bring the incident to a close.

This brings Paul to a turning point; the Giants’ season literally rests in his hands and he simply can’t let them down. He tells the incredulous detective that he can’t remember the incident; the cop responds “Can’t? Or won’t?” Of course, it’s won’t; Paul remembers the incident clearly enough, and it haunts him like Marley’s ghost.

When Philadelphia Phil finds out that the beating victim is none other than Paul of Staten Island, Paul’s world crumbles. His hatred for his nemesis reaches a boiling point; how far is Paul willing to go to prove his loyalty to his team?

Writer/director Siegel is best known for writing The Wrestler which brought Mickey Rourke’s career back to life. This is a different kind of sports film, taken from the perspective we’re mostly used to facing on our own – that of the fan. Of course, few of us are as rabid as Paul is, but there is still the same outside-looking-in kind of feel to the movie that most of us are used to.

Oswalt is best known as a stand-up comedian (and to film fans as the voice of Remy in Ratatouille) but he does just fine in this straight dramatic role. His Paul has a life that most of us would think of as unfulfilling, but he likes it just fine. He’s completely satisfied to be without romance, ambition or curiosity. His relationship is with his football club; it’s the only thing that matters to him, the only thing that makes sense. His family doesn’t understand; really, I don’t expect most viewers will understand either. Only those who have the kind of passion Paul possesses will truly get his character.

The movie revolves around Paul to a very large extent; the other characters are on the periphery of your vision. That Oswalt can carry the movie is crucial; if he falters, the movie fails. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen. The only real glitch is I found the ending to be a bit perfunctory and even a little surreal. Then again, I might not be the kind of guy this movie is meant for, even though I consider myself a pretty rabid fan of the San Jose Sharks NHL club. While I don’t see me getting in the grill of a fan of an opposing club the way Paul does, it’s a good thing that there are fans like Paul around; makes the world seem a bit more normal, a bit more familiar. That’s all that I need to recommend this, quite frankly.

WHY RENT THIS: A decent insight into the soul of the superfan. Oswalt does a pretty solid job carrying the movie in a dramatic role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending was a bit anti-climactic. Some of the actions of Paul border on the surreal.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of foul language here, a little bit of sexuality and some fairly adult themes. I think it best that the kids skip Big Fan.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The host of the radio call-in show that Paul regularly calls is Scott Ferrall, who really does host a sports call-in show on Sirius satellite radio.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a downloadable Quantrell Bishop poster. Woohoo!

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Law Abiding Citizen