I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With


I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

Bonnie Hunt and Jeff Garlin are stunned by the news that they aren't in High Fidelity

(2006) Romantic Comedy (IFC First Take) Jeff Garlin, Sarah Silverman, Dan Castellaneta, Bonnie Hunt, Richard Kind, Paul Mazursky, Amy Sedaris, Joey Slotnick, Tim Kazurinski, Elle Fanning, Roger Bart, Wallace Langham, Gina Gershon, Aaron Carter, Mina Kolb. Directed by Jeff Garlin

We all want someone to share our lives with to some degree or another. Most want a lifetime partner, someone to raise a family with and growl old together with. Others have simpler needs.

James (Garlin) is a habitually unemployed actor who lives with his mom (Kolb). Overweight, his love life has been sinking like the Titanic. He hasn’t had sex in five years and quite frankly, the likelihood of him getting laid is remote at best.

He attends Overeaters Anonymous meetings but with little enthusiasm and inevitably winds up buying junk food from a corner market, then parking out by Wrigley Field to eat. He turns down roles from his long-suffering agent (Kind) while holding out hope that he’ll get the lead role in the remake of his favorite film of all time – Marty, the movie that won Ernest Borgnine his Oscar. His agent eventually drops him.

Still, even big men get lucky once in awhile. James meets Beth (Silverman) at an ice cream parlor and winds up having sex with her. He also develops a big crush on Stella (Hunt), whom he meets in a record store and who may or may not be a chubby chaser. Meanwhile, he is hit by a crushing blow – the part of Marty has gone to pop star Aaron Carter (himself). And his once-promising love life is imploding. Why can’t he find a woman to love? He’s a really sweet guy after all.

I think this movie was made with the best of intentions. Garlin, who at the time was best known for his work in the comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” is also a legendary stand-up in the Chicago area and a veteran of Second City and other improv groups that the city is justifiably famous for. Many of the people in the cast also got their starts in Chicago or at one time lived and worked there.

Garlin himself is very likable and sweet. If you like his standup act, you’re going to want to rent this. It is very clearly a labor of love and of course the big question is how much of this is autobiographical. I suspect quite a bit of it is.

Even though Garlin is the center of the movie, he’s not it’s star. The city of Chicago is. Garlin films it with such affection and love you may want to pack your bags and move there straightaway. Garlin’s love for the city is obvious and captures Chicago in a way someone who is indifferent about it could never duplicate.

Where the film has its problems is in the area you’d think it was strongest in – the jokes. Many of them fall flat and quite frankly, the schtick about Garlin’s love and sex life combined with his caloric intake gets old. Also, many of the characters seem to be thrown in because they are buddies of Garlin and he wanted to make room for them in the movie. Lots of them don’t seem to have much of a purpose in the film, exacerbating the overall feeling of disjointedness that pervades the film.

Still, it isn’t bad. Garlin’s charm really floats the movie along and allows it to breathe somewhat. His relationship in the film to the very excellent Bonnie Hunt is more interesting to me than the one with Silverman, who may be too pretty for the role. Those who love Chicago and Chicago comics will also love this movie, and in a way, thinking about it from that perspective makes me want to rate it higher than I am actually giving it. However, the reason I’m not pulling t he trigger is simply this; it needed to be funnier. Hopefully, Garlin will have a nice long career – he may never do a movie as personal as this again, but I suspect he has a great role in front of him someday soon.

WHY RENT THIS: Garlin evinces a very likable persona here. Garlin uses Chicago as a wonderful backdrop, giving us a sense of the city as well as its landmarks.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many jokes fall flat. Many of the vignettes seem designed to add specific comics into the movie when they really don’t need to be there.

FAMILY VALUES: Although the movie is unrated, it’s pretty harmless; there are plenty of curse words and some sexual content but otherwise it isn’t too off-putting to the sensitive.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After 30 days of filming, the shooting script was 237 pages. The first cut was over four and a half hours long. It took four months to complete the final edit of the version that made it to the screen.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $194,568 on an unreported production budget; the film undoubtedly lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Cairo Time

Shotgun Stories


Shotgun Stories

Nobody does the wary look better than Michael Shannon.

(IFC First Take) Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs, Natalie Canerday, Glenda Pannell, Lynnsee Provence, Michael Abbott Jr. Directed by Jeff Nichols

For most of us, family is the most important factor in our lives. We’ll do anything, risk everything, and put our lives on the line if it means protecting our families. We strive to always be there for our families, to never fail them. When our families fail us, it is a terrible thing however.

Son Hayes (Shannon) and his brothers Kid (Jacobs) and Boy (Ligon) were brought into this world by, in Son’s words, a hateful woman who knocks on his door one night to inform him that his estranged father has died. She informs him in much the same way as she might tell him that the local supermarket is having a sale on cantaloupes. She has no plans to attend the funeral, although Son and his brothers do, even though the man couldn’t be bothered to give them names, was an alcoholic degenerate who eventually found sobriety and Jesus, and left them to start a new family with four new sons. Son, as a matter of fact, has a few words to say at the funeral, none of them good about his late dad and his other four sons who don’t take kindly to Son’s harsh words and his final defiant gesture of spitting on the grave of their mutual Pa.

Of course, it isn’t like their lives were scintillating to begin with. Son works on a fish farm feeding the fish. His wife (Pannell) left him recently, taking their son with her, since Son has a tendency to spend every dime he has gambling using a system of his own creation. Kid lives in a tent in Son’s yard and is trying to put enough money away to marry his long-time girlfriend who waits for him patiently. Boy is the basketball coach at the local middle school, living in a van and trying to beat the summer heat by plugging in a home air conditioning unit into the cigarette lighter in the van, with predictable results.

Thus is the way of things in rural Arkansas. Son’s gesture escalates into a blood feud that will leave at least one person dead and the lives of both sides altered beyond repair.

If Shakespeare had lived in Little Rock, this might be what Hamlet might have turned out like. The sense of impending tragedy is palpable, and Nichols is a keen student of human nature (being a native of the Little Rock area, he has a fine affinity for the characters and the rhythms of their speech). That’s not to say that this is a timeless classic, only that it captures certain elements of the Bard well.

Shannon is a man among boys here, showing off the kind of chops that would win him an Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road the following year. He has eyes that pierce through the camera and a scowl that dares you to cross him, informing you that you would be most unwise if you do.

I liked the dialogue of the movie; there’s an authenticity to it that elevates the movie. The characters mostly talk about the inane, often with a biting sense of humor. Rarely does a movie explore such depth in such simple terms without a bit of a self-congratulatory streak in it. It is business as usual for these characters and they go about it with grim efficiency, knowing that given the way life has always treated them, it will end badly for them eventually.

There is a certain amount of indie drama 101 in the filmmaking here, and I won’t deny that some of this treads familiar ground. I have to admit though that I found this a fascinating life study, because while these guys may be uneducated, they’re not necessarily stupid and they certainly have a lot of qualities that are worthwhile, despite the fact that their father dealt them a losing hand from the get-go.

They keep plugging away having accepted the inevitable and embracing their own undeclared war on their own past demons, although they probably wouldn’t put it in those terms. They just follow their instincts, and those instincts are usually headed straight down the wrong way on a one-way street. If the Hayes boys were reading this, they might say something along the lines of at least that way they can see all the traffic coming.

WHY RENT THIS: A gripping look at an extended family torn apart, with some strong performances particularly from Shannon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ve seen a lot of this before, albeit not as well in some cases.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes are on the mature side and there is some violence, although not graphic or brutal. There is some blue language but not a lot. I’d probably think twice before letting the more immature members of your family see it, but should be okay for everyone else.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All of the sequences taking place after dark were shot in a single night.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Spiral

Day Night Day Night


Day Night Day Night

Luisa Williams thought she was playing blindfolded musical chairs on the Ellen Degeneres Show but she was so wrong.

(IFC First Take) Luisa Williams, Josh Phillip Weinstein, Gareth Saxe, Nyambi Nyambi, Tschi Hun Kim, Annemarie Lawless, Frank Dattolo. Directed by Julia Loktev

We read about suicide bombers in the Middle East every day. One has to wonder what kind of person would do such a thing; even more to the point, would it be possible for an American to contemplate doing such a thing?

A young 19-year-old girl (Williams) is more than contemplating it. She has made the decision to detonate a bomb in Times Square. She is picked up at the bus station by an Asian driver and taken to an anonymous hotel room where she meets her handlers, all of whom wear black ski masks. She herself is often blindfolded.

The conversation is almost blindingly banal. She is told she must fit in without standing out. She asks for pizza. She waits by a cell phone for periodic calls from her handlers. Eventually, they bring a backpack filled with explosives and she is once again driven to Times Square. There, she walks around, stopping to snack once in awhile, summoning up the courage to detonate the bomb.

That is the movie in a nutshell. Director Loktev deliberately withholds as much information as she can; we’re never told why the girl, who is identified only as “She” (except on her fake ID on which she is called Leah Cruz), is doing what she wants to do. We know nothing of the organization that is preparing her for the task. We don’t know why Times Square was chosen (other than the obvious) or even what kind of statement the terrorist organization is trying to make.

What Loktev does is concentrate on the bomber’s face. She is young, elfin and not unlike any other girl you might see in a college dormitory. Her eyes do not reflect madness or obsession; they are sad and frightened, or dull and resigned. She lapses into whispered prayers from time to time although it isn’t clear who she’s praying to or even why. The effect has been compared to Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc which isn’t inaccurate. There, as here, there many tight shots of the actress’ face and rarely is there a shot where her face isn’t visible.

Williams’ face is the canvas that Loktev chooses to use to tell her story and I think that canvas is deliberately made to be austere and nearly blank. We are made to choose our own conclusion, which is a lot of work for a movie-going public which tends to prefer having their ideas handed to them, neatly wrapped with a bow.

Loktev does a magnificent job of creating a great deal of tension when the girl is loose in Times Square. We don’t know from moment to moment if she is going to decide to stop and pull the trigger. When she seems about to, one actually flinches.

Unfortunately, the movie is a victim of its own conceit. In trying to juxtapose the banality and boredom of waiting for the task at hand to be performed and the tension and brutality of the act itself, we are left with far too much emphasis on the former. I will admit that it does make the latter more effective, but I think we spend far too much time watching the girl eat, read, and scratch herself. It numbs the mind and allows the focus of the viewer to wander, never a good thing.

Loktev is clearly a talented and gifted writer/director, and I expect that in years to come we might be hearing a great deal from her. This isn’t Oscar material mind you, but it is a solid effort – flawed, but solid. Those who like their movies a little more challenging might well enjoy this. Those who prefer to be spoon-fed in the cinema should probably steer clear.

WHY RENT THIS: An innovatively told look at a suicide bomber on American soil. The tension mounts as the movie lurches towards its conclusion.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There are a lot of scenes meant to portray the banality of the moment juxtaposed with the seriousness of the situation, but at times it gets to be too much and winds up being a bit boring quite frankly.

FAMILY VALUES: Although the movie is unrated, there is a little bit of foul language; the subject matter is a bit adult and the storytelling method may be a bit much for kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is only the second feature to be directed by Loktev; her first was Moment of Impact in 1998.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Last Chance Harvey