Montana Amazon


Montana Amazon

Haley Joel Osment and Allison Brie wonder why the film's budget didn't include dry cleaning.

(2011) Comedy (Self-Distributed) Olympia Dukakis, Haley Joel Osment, Allison Brie, Veronica Cartwright, Ellen Geer, Lew Temple, James McDonald, Liza Del Mundo, Angel Oquendo, Haley Pullos, Michelle Bonilla, Zach Lewis, Connie Cooper, Patty McCall. Directed by D.G. Brock

Not everyone is born a genius. Not everyone is even born with normal intelligence. Some people are born to march to a different drummer, and some people are just born.

The Dunderheads of Montana are the kind of family that small towns in Montana sometimes have to put up with; not super bright, not socially graceful and apt to do the wrong thing more times than not. Ira (Dukakis) is nearly mute, for whom smoking seems to be her only joy in life. She is as mean-tempered as a Missouri mule and twice as violent as a Manson family disciple.

Ella (Brie), her granddaughter, has the sexuality of Sue Lyon in Lolita and the maturity of a six-year-old. She dreams of being swept off her feet by a studly gas station attendant (she has a thing for gas station attendants) and has all the sophistication of a musk ox in heat. As beautiful as she is, there is something disturbing about her that makes most guys go running in the opposite direction; that is if they have any sense at all.

Womple (Osment) is Ira’s grandson and Ella’s brother; he dreams of finding his father, who has been missing in action most of his life. Womple believes he is a big game hunter in Africa. He is sure his dad will return any day now, a hope that his sister ridicules at every opportunity. Ira doesn’t have much to say on the subject; she doesn’t have much to say at all.

When Womple accidentally kills a friend (and believe me, Womple doesn’t have many), a paranoid Ira herds her grandkids into an ancient Ford Falcon and drives off to escape the law. She has but one word in her vocabulary: “Canada!” which she grunts with ferocity. There’s just one problem; Canada is to the North of Montana; Ira heads resolutely south.

Along the way the Dunderheads leave a trail of mayhem and chaos behind them, but Womple will also discover the truth about his father and the family skeleton that he literally comes face to face with, and we will discover that some families are dysfunctional for a reason.

Director D.G. Brock is not a name I’m familiar with but she is a name you want to keep your eye on. This is one of the best-directed comedies I’ve seen in quite awhile. The pace is absolutely frenetic, moving from scene to scene with reckless abandon. There are a lot of really big laughs here, and many of them come from the puzzled expression of Haley Joel Osment, who probably saw a few dead people when he was channeling his performance, most notably the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.

Olympia Dukakis is a treasure; while she has been cast in a lot of similar roles over her career (mother and now grandmother), she carries off this offbeat role bravely, allowing herself to go outside of her comfort zone (she beats the crap out of Osment throughout the movie and smokes like a fiend) and as a result, delivers one of the best performances of her stellar career.

Allison Brie is familiar to television viewers more than movie fans, having critical roles in both “Mad Men” and “Community” but she does a great job here. While her performance isn’t quite as fearless as Dukakis’, she displays a comic touch that marks her as a comic actress who has a future on the big screen as well as the small.

Cartwright and Geer deliver strong albeit brief performances in supporting roles. In fact, the acting is uniformly strong in this movie which for the most part has flown under the national radar. I caught it at the Orlando Film Festival and while the movie isn’t scheduled for U.S. release until April 2011 (and at present has no national distribution lined up), nonetheless this is one of those movies that remind you that good movies don’t necessarily generate Internet buzz. It’s an impressive comedy that mixes the best elements of screwball comedy and road pictures but injects a modern sensibility into the mix. It’s one worth making an effort to look out for.

REASONS TO GO: This movie is as manic as they come; combines the traditions of the screwball comedy and the road comedy, only with a modern sensibility. Dukakis, Osment, Brie and Cartwright all deliver the goods here. The ending packs quite an unexpected wallop.

REASONS TO STAY: At times the Dunderheads act so dumb and revolting it’s hard to sympathize with them.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing scenes, a bit of bad language (not much) and some scenes of sexuality, as well as some sexual language; I would rate this as acceptable for most teenaged audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Those who bought tickets in advance from the film’s website can get a free download of the John Legend song that is played during the closing credits.

HOME OR THEATER: While it is still possible the film might be picked up for national distribution, it is more likely your best bet will be to find it on DVD/Blu-Ray either on Netflix or online.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Flushed Away

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Cyrus


Cyrus

Even Marisa Tomei finds the concept of falling for John C. Reilly amusing.

(Fox Searchlight) John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh, Katie Aselton, Tim Guinee, Steve Zissis, Jamie Donnelly, Diane Mizota, Kathy Ann Wittes, Charlie Brewer. Directed by the Duplass Brothers

In a simpler age, it was said a boy’s best friend was his mother. These days, that statement has creepy connotations, which is no doubt what inspired the making of this movie.

John (Reilly) is not a very happy guy. It’s been seven years since his wife divorced him (not his idea, as he very firmly points out) and ever since, he’s been in a shell. He rarely goes out, has few friends and as for a romantic life? Obviously not. Mostly, his only social contact is his ex-wife for whom he still carries a torch. She walks in on him masturbating to tell him the news that she’s getting re-married, which gives you an idea of what kind of movie this is going to be.

She badgers him to go to a party she’s throwing and at first, John isn’t keen on going. She has invited a lot of beautiful single girls and insists he goes so he can get on with his life (and by inference get out of hers). Finally he gives in and shows up, and it’s clear that he has no game whatsoever. As the night goes on, he continues to drink vodka and Red Bulls, getting progressively more sloshed and makes horrible attempts at small talk with disinterested, even to the point where he opens up to a woman (Wittes) about how desperate and lonely he is, sending her fleeing as far away from him as she can get.

He is overheard by Molly (Tomei), who can relate being also desperate and lonely. The two meet each other while John is urinating in the bushes (oh, the romance!) and she deflects the awkwardness of the situation by saying the only thing a woman can say that won’t cause the man to wish he were a thousand miles away – “Nice penis.”

From such things great romances are born, and Molly and John spend the night together. Soon, they are seeing each other seriously despite John’s misgivings about his looks (“I’m, like, Shrek!”) but John is a little concerned that she always leaves his bed in the middle of the night. One night, he follows her and finds out where she lives. He discovers she has a grown son named Cyrus (Hill) who lives at home and is working on a New Age music career.

Cyrus is welcoming enough at first but it becomes clear that he has another agenda in mind. For one thing, Cyrus is extremely possessive of his mom and doesn’t want to compete for her affection. In fact, the two are so close it’s kind of creepy; apparently Cyrus was still being breastfed when he was about, I think, eight. Years, that is – not months.

The Duplass Brothers are noted as leading artists in the “mumblecore” filmmaking movement, which is more evident in their previous features Puffy Chair and Baghead. This movie isn’t mumblecore per se, but it has some of the elements of it – like the jerky camera movements and the sudden zoom ins and zoom outs that become really annoying after awhile. It’s all part of the “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome that often affects filmmakers who have been too much on the indie circuit.

This has romantic comedy elements too, and unfortunately they are the same ones that have made American romantic comedies mostly forgettable and lame. The movie’s ending is very predictable, to the point of making me want to pound my head against the wall.

What saves the movie is the premise and the execution, as well as the acting of the three leads. Reilly and Tomei are two very likable actors and even though they’re playing very flawed characters here, they make you root for them despite those flaws. Reilly is so rumpled and beaten down you wonder what a hottie like Tomei would see in him until you find out how beaten down she is. They’re kindred spirits, which makes the romance all the more acceptable.

Jonah Hill has played some oddball characters in his time, and this is one of the oddest. Cyrus is at once pathetic and shrewd, able to play his mother like a Stradivarius. In many ways their relationship symbolizes a lot of the problems with modern parenting, the permissiveness and clinginess that many parents feel towards their children. If that was the intent of the Duplass brothers, then a big ol’ Bravo to them.

The movie is definitely creepy in places and awkward in others. Watching it is not unlike walking in on a married couple having a big fight; the longer you stay, the more awkward it feels. In some ways, I like being thrown off-balance that way – it makes for a more memorable cinematic experience. However, those who feel uncomfortable at the expression of raw emotions should stand warned that they might find it too awkward.

REASONS TO GO: Some really funny moments. The three key leads all turn in solid work.

REASONS TO STAY: Self-consciously indie combined with rom-com clichés make it an uphill climb at times to like this movie. The forced focus and montage sequences became tiresome.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language and a little bit of sexuality. Some of the situations are decidedly uncomfortable concerning the mother-son relationship.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmmakers Ridley and Tony Scott served as producers on the movie, through their production company Scott Free.

HOME OR THEATER: While worth seeing in the theater, this certainly will work at home if you’d so prefer.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: G-Force

Everybody Wants to Be Italian


Everybody Wants to Be Italian

If you'd had five cups of coffee out of this cup, your eyes would be as wide as saucers too.

(Roadside Attractions) Jay Jablonski, Cerina Vincent, John Kapelos, John Enos III, Dan Cortese, Richard Libertini, Penny Marshall, Marisa Petroro. Directed by Jason Todd Ipson

I will admit to having a more than passing affection for Italian culture. Not only do I love the cuisine (hey, I make a wicked lasagna), but I love the sense of family and belonging that is part and parcel of being Italian. Like most non-Italians, I have a bit of an inferiority complex.

Jake Bianski (Jablonski) is not Italian. He’s Polish as a matter of fact, but he owns an Italian fish market with Italian co-workers; Papa Tempesti (Libertini), the patriarch, Gianluca Tempesti (Enos), the ladies man, and Steve Bottino (Kapelos), the amateur psychologist. Jake is single but has a thing about Isabella (Petroro), the girl he broke up with eight years before. Even though she’s married and has three kids, Jake is positive he’s meant to be with her.

Of course, his buddies have all sorts of advice for him, being the caring sorts that they are. Also being busybodies, they set Jake up at a singles club for Italians, even though he’s not Italian. There he meets Marisa Costa (Vincent), a veterinarian who is also not Italian. Both of them claim they’re Italian just to justify their presence at the dance; they wind up going on a date. At the date, stupid Jake can do nothing else but talk about Isabella. Of course, Marisa figures that the two of them are still an item.

Thus they set out to be just friends, and as it turns out, they become good friends. They’re both good people and they have a lot in common. By the time Jake figures out that he wants more than friendship with Marisa, Isabella gets back in the picture.

This is Ipson’s second feature and it’s not bad, not really. Sure, it has loads of romantic comedy clichés and certainly the humor is uneven but there is a kind of offbeat Italian charm to it that kept my interest. There is a surfeit of Quirky Indie Characters to keep the filmmakers indie cred, but I can live with that.

The main leads – Jablonski and Vincent – have enough charisma and chemistry to keep the rooting interest alive. One of the big problems with romantic comedies is that often the leads are cast either because of their notoriety or because of their look. Here, it appears that Ipson tried to put two actors together who worked well together, and their relationship becomes believable; thus as the film progresses you want them to be together.

Does this pander to Italian stereotypes? The answer is yes to a large degree, but it’s never in an offensive way. These aren’t goombahs (at least to my way of thinking) but the kind of Italian you’d find in South Boston; abrasive but with a heart of gold. Nobody shoots anybody and to be honest, I loved spending time with these people, even the non-Italians.

Because the script doesn’t really go too far beyond what I would consider the standard romantic comedy fare, I had to give this a lower ranking than I might have ordinarily. I would have liked the filmmakers to go beyond the stereotypical romantic comedy situations and maybe used their ethnic choices more to their advantage. That worked wonders for Moonstruck. As it is, this isn’t My Big Fat Greek Wedding so much as it is My Big Dumb Italian Courtship. And, as we all know, the Italians are far more expert at love than the protagonists here. Don’t believe me? Get thee to Venice unbeliever!

WHY RENT THIS: There is a good deal of offbeat charm to the movie.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The humor quotient is a bit uneven and the romantic clichés fall a bit thick and fast.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality and a good deal of sex talk, making this a little bit much for the younger set.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cerina Vincent went from playing the Yellow Power Ranger on television to becoming a scream queen in movies like Cabin Fever.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The audition tapes for some of the lead actors are there for the perusing.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Changeling

Gigantic


Gigantic

Paul Dano is all wrapped up in Zooey Deschanel.

(First Independent) Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Edward Asner, John Goodman, Jane Alexander, Zach Galifianakis, Ian Roberts, Brian Avers, Robert Stanton. Directed by Matt Aselton

We all have our own set of aspirations. Some of them border on obsessions, which is fine. Some of them are a bit out there, which is also fine. Some of us give up on them, which is not so fine. And still others do not deviate from their plan on achieving those goals.

Brian Weathersby (Dano) is a mattress salesman in New York with seemingly low career goals, but that’s only on the surface. What’s really on his mind is the adoption of a Chinese baby, which he has wanted to do all his life and which he is now so close to he can just about taste it.

While his personality is rather bland, his life is somewhat complicated. He is repeatedly and without explanation attacked by a homeless man (Galifianakis) who might well be a figure of his imagination other than the facial wounds he leaves. He, his brothers and his father (Asner) bond over hallucinogenic mushrooms. Indeed, a Norman Rockwell family at its finest. Remember his famous Saturday Evening Post painting “Daddy gets high on mescaline”?

Brian sells a high-end mattress to Al Lolly (Goodman), an oversized man with severe back troubles. The mattress costs north of $14K so it’s not a slam dunk procedure. Al decides to send his daughter Harriet (Deschanel) over to test it out for herself before arranging the payment.

Harriet turns out to be one of those New York waifs with an independent spirit and who acts as if every moment needs to register on the quirk-meter in order to be meaningful. She falls asleep on the mattress, well past closing time. Brian somewhat sweetly places a blanket over her, more to make sure nobody looks up her skirt while she’s asleep.

They converse in murmurs. She asks if he is interested in having sex with her, and he confides that he might be. He tells a friend he’s not sure if he likes her. Brian’s whole life is about getting that baby; the presence of Harriet might jeopardize that in some odd way.

There’s no denying he feels something for her though. He brings her to meet his family which is a bit risky; only his mother (Alexander) is even halfway sane. Still, he’s not sure he can bring himself to love her when loving her might mean that he has to change the plans he has for his life.

This is the kind of movie that a lot of folks characterize as “fiercely indie” and that’s not in a good way. Not long ago these types of movies were all the rage at Sundance and Toronto, but these days more traditional storytelling seems to be more in vogue. That’s not to say that Gigantic is without merit. It’s perfectly cast and that cast is impressive, with all of them delivering solid performances at the very least.

Deschanel is one of those actresses who can make even an uninteresting role interesting and a too-quirky role seem more down-to-earth. She makes Harriet real and believable; in lesser hands the character would have been so annoying that Ellen DeGeneres might have been moved to punch her in the face. Dano has made a niche for himself as a somewhat deadpan character who displays little in the way of emotion except for occasional tiny cracks. It served him well in Little Miss Sunshine and it serves him well here. The romance between the two becomes believable.

This movie might have well made higher marks with me had they not tried so hard to be funny and quirky. Scenes like the one in the massage parlor are unnecessary and serve to jar you out of the overall mood of the movie; it’s like driving a car whose transmission is on its last legs. If they had just tried to tell the story of Brian and Harriet straight it might have worked out better.

Still in all, this is a solid film with several moments that are worth cherishing. It may not be the kind of indie film that breaks the mold but at least it gets points for doing what it does do very well.

WHY RENT THIS: Any movie with Zooey Deschanel is worth seeing. Great cast who all have their moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The film loses steam in the last half. At times it feels like they’re trying too hard to be funny.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality, a whole lot of foul language and some scenes of sudden violence make this a bit rough for the young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Galifianakis’ role although listed as “Homeless Man” on IMDB, does not in fact appear on the film’s credits.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Easy Virtue

King of California


King of California

Michael Douglas is clearly up to no good.

(First Look) Michael Douglas, Evan Rachel Wood, Willis Burks II, Laura Kachergus, Paul Lieber, Kathleen Wilhoite, Anne Nathan. Directed by Mike Cahill

Don Quixote tilted at windmills and searched for the perfect woman, and for his troubles was labeled insane. Even today, those who search for the impossible dream are often considered lunatics and are treated as such.

Miranda (Wood) has a fairly atypical and comfortable existence. She’s managed to fool the authorities and her estranged family into thinking that she’s living with relatives. The truth is that the teenaged girl is living alone in her family home, her mother long since deceased and her father Charlie (Douglas), an ex-jazz musician, is spending his days at his new address in a local mental institution.

One day however, Charlie is released from the nuthatch and she is forced to deal with him again. He has a peculiar gleam in his eyes and an appetite for things that makes her think he’s up to something. He denies it at first, claiming he’s just going for a job interview at a local Applebee’s.

Except that he’s not. He is, in fact, up to Something and it is not in error that I capitalize. Using the internet for research, he has locked into the idea that a Spanish conquistador once buried a treasure full of gold in the Santa Clarita valley, where the two of them live. He is positively giddy with the idea.

Miranda doesn’t have time for the lunacy, at least not at first. Their ramshackle house, virtually falling apart around them, is theirs only by the skin of her teeth. She is working double shifts and overtime at McDonald’s to make ends meet. She has managed to purchase a car – nay, a hunk of junk that runs by the grace of God – and it is her pride and joy. It is the one tangible proof that she has accomplished anything in life.

Soon, Charlie’s quest, like Don Quixote before him, overruns her life and begins to take it over. He discerns, using the translated maps and adjusting for the terrain changes in the intervening years that the gold is buried beneath a palate of toys and a slab of concrete at the local Costco. He hatches a plot to go retrieve the treasure, but is there really anything there or is this just a product of Charlie’s mental illness?

This movie came and went on a limited release and now is getting a bit of airtime on cable. The allusions to Cervantes’ iconic character aren’t lost on Michael Douglas, who plays Charlie with a wild, unkempt beard (making him look oddly Spanish) and a gleam in his eyes that could be madness or could be Gordon Gekko messin’ with ya. It’s been years since we’ve seen Douglas perform as well as he does here, having mostly done mediocre supporting roles in forgettable comedies recently. This is certainly a comedic role, but Douglas plays him in a sympathetic vein, making it very easy to root for the clearly unbalanced Charlie, even though we know he’s probably out to lunch.

Against this backdrop we have Evan Rachel Wood, a competent actress in her own right and she makes the best of a thankless role. Although she narrates the film, still the movie is Charlie’s and it is him you will remember from the movie, which is the way the filmmakers want it. Wood is no Dulcinea here – she’s far too worldly for that – but she plays the role as a girl wise beyond her years. Miranda humors Charlie mainly to give him something to do at first, but eventually she buys into his madness. It is charming to watch, and some of the later scenes in the movie are some of the best Wood has ever done.

The difficulty here is in balancing the story with the impulse to over-emphasize Charlie’s quirks, an impulse Cahill fails to resist. At times, Charlie’s screwloose charm dominates the movie overly much, making it nearly impossible to follow the story because the movie stops dead in its tracks in those instances. Still, for the most part, it moves nicely at a pace that isn’t too fast which might irritate those of the post-MTV generation who don’t like staring at the same shot for more than five seconds.

The story doesn’t really mine any new territory, and that’s okay. What matters here is that the movie’s point about the mind-numbing blandness of modern suburban life is well-taken and well-illustrated here. Few of Costco’s customers notice the wild-looking man pacing about Costco with a metal detector, all lost in their own banal nightmare. Charlie is a spark of life in an ocean of conformity, one who embraces life and seeks out adventure even when such acts are frowned upon and thought insane. One wonders if perhaps Charlie is the only sane one of all those living in a colorless world of interchangeability in which people all over the country in cities and suburbs identical to this one buy the same products in the same stores and eat at the same restaurants afterwards. If Charlie’s insane, then commit me now. I’d rather live in his world than in the other.

WHY RENT THIS: Douglas gives one of his best performances in years. The film pointedly illustrates how bland, banal and interchangeable modern suburban/city life is.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie sometimes goes a bit overboard with the quirkiness. No new territory is really mined here.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of off-color language and references to past drug use but the kicker here is the portrayal of mental illness. More mature kids might be okay with this, but certainly fine for teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production filmed in a working Costco during the nighttime hours when the store is normally closed. A cash register was kept open so that the crew could make purchases during the shoot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: This carries with it one of the strongest audio commentary tracks you are ever likely to hear. Highly recommended for that alone.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Mountain Patrol: Kekexili