Them That Follow


(2019) Documentary (1091) Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Olivia Colman, Thomas Mann, Lewis Pullman, Jim Gaffigan, Kaitlyn Dever, Dominic Cancelliere, Annie Tedesco, Bradley Gallo, Katherine DeBoer, Brooks Roseberry, Erik Andrews, Connor Daniel Lysholm, Catherine L. Albers, Kami Amore, Chris Breen, Logan Fry, Christine M. Pratt, Ramona Schwalbach. Directed by Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage

It is said that faith can move mountains, but in the mountains of Appalachia faith is much more than that. Faith is everything; one’s devotion to God must be absolute. There are no other alternatives. In some rural churches, faith is a life or death equation.

Mara (Englert) is the pretty young daughter of Pentecostal preacher Lemuel Childs (Goggins). Lemuel is part of the snake handler sect which requires his flock to prove their devotion to God by allowing a venomous rattlesnake to be draped around their neck. If the snake leaves them alone, fine; that’s God telling you that your faith is sufficient. However, if the snake elects to sink its fangs into you, you’ll undergo an agonizing slow death unless you can fight off the venom. With the help of friends or family praying away, anyone who succumbs to the snake bite does so due to a lack of faith, not to a lack of medical care which the congregation eschews.

It’s a highly patriarchal society in which women are made to wear ankle length skirts, perform roles of cooking, cleaning and child-rearing and to be absolutely submissive to their husbands. They are not even supposed to drive, making this a kind of Saudi America. If the Muslims hadn’t claimed the burkas first, I wouldn’t be surprised if the women of the congregation were made to wear them.

Mara is at an age where she is ready to be married. Daddy has picked out intense Garret (Pullman), a member of the parish and a true believer. However, Mara is kind of sweet on Augie (Mann), the son of local gas station/market owner Hope (Colman) who is known more commonly as Sister Slaughter. She was a bit of a hellraiser in her youth but her husband Zeke (Gaffigan) has essentially calmed her down. As for Augie, he is anything but a true believer; in fact he’s an atheist. His mother tolerates it pretty much as you tolerate the drunk uncle in the family.

Mara and her good friend Dilly (Devers) are inseparable, especially since Dilly’s mom abandoned her in fleeing the church and community which isn’t especially tolerant of free thinkers, particularly among the women. However, Mara is carrying a secret of her own and when it gets out it could rock the entire community to its core.

The feel here is authentic Appalachia; although the movie was filmed in Ohio it feels more like West Virginia. The gorgeous cinematography from Brett Jurkiewicz helps set that particular mood, as does the set design – Lemuel’s church is in a converted barn with only a neon cross to differentiate it from other barns. The life of the mountain folk here are pretty simple and uncomplicated; there are no television sets and things move at a fairly slow place, like the land the Internet forgot.

In fact, one of the drawbacks to the film is that the pacing is maddeningly slow particularly through the first two thirds of the movie. It does pick up speed towards the end, though so if you can sit through the first hour, you should be golden the rest of the way.

However, there’s still the performances of Goggins and Englert to enjoy; the two of them have a real chemistry and they both embrace their roles with gusto. Colman, who is a recent Oscar-winner, sounds a bit uncomfortable with the Southern accent, but she is solid as well as are Pullman and Mann as Maras two suitors. Gaffigan, a gifted comedy actor, shows off his dramatic chops nicely here.

The movie is largely about how far you are willing to take your faith before it becomes unhealthy. It’s hard not to see comparisons between these cultish Pentecostals and modern Evangelicals who seem to be grabbing the headlines lately. The directors respect the faith of the characters here which is nice to see; too often Hollywood tends to be either dismissive of characters with faith, or in the case of Christian cinema, too proselytizing. Some of the snake scenes are pretty horrible to watch and the sensitive sorts might want to take a pass on it, or at least watch it those scenes with eyes tightly shut and a trusted friend to tell you when to open them up again.

I’m not sure why anyone would think that God requires you to prove your faith by taking a rattlesnake to your breast, but some believe that it is so. The movie isn’t going to give you any answers in that direction but it is going to show you characters with strong faith and strong convictions – not to make them look evil, or backward but if anything to remind us that some good people sometimes believe in things that the rest of us might not understand – or accept.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is gorgeous. Englert and Goggins deliver incendiary performances.
REASONS TO AVOID: Moves at a fairly slow and languid pace.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity, an attempted rape and some disturbing violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lewis Pullman is the son of actor Bill Pullman who memorably played the President in Independence Day and its sequel.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Apostle
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
ZZ Top: That Lil’ Ole Band from Texas

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New Releases for the Week of August 9, 2019


THE KITCHEN

(New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Common, Margo Martindale. Directed by Andrea Berloff

In Hell’s Kitchen in 1978, the wives of three low-level hoods in the Irish Mafia find themselves in dire financial straits when their husbands are sent to jail. Despite assurances by the mob that they’ll be taken care of, it turns out that it’s all just lip service. Desperate, the ladies take matters into their own hands and start running their husband’s rackets on their own.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, language throughout and some sexual content)

The Art of Racing in the Rain

(20th Century Fox) Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker, Kevin Costner (voice). A puppy, picked up by an aspiring Formula One race car driver, grows philosophical, realizing that the techniques that make one successful on the race course also apply to success in life.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic material)

Brian Banks

(Bleecker Street) Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd. A young high school All-American football player is ready to take that first step towards turning pro when he enrolls at the University of Southern California but finds his plans derailed when he is accused, tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. After years of trying to prove his innocence, he at last is successful and is determined to fulfill his interrupted dream of playing in the NFL.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and related images, and for language)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

(Paramount) Isabella Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria. The beloved Nickelodeon animated show Dora the Explorer gets a live action treatment as high schooler Dora along with her faithful monkey companion and some of her pals from school go on a wild adventure in the jungles of South America to save her parents and solve the mystery behind a legendary city of gold.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action and some impolite humor)

ECCO

(Citadel) Lathrop Walker, Tabitha Bastien, Helena Grace Donald, Michael Winters. A former assassin, living quietly with his family away from his former life, finds his cover blown by his former employers. Now he must rely on his skills to protect his loved ones and hunt down those who betrayed him and in whom all his sins reside.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence including bloody images, language, and some sexuality/nudity)

Rapid Eye Movement

(Vertical) Reiko Aylesworth, Francois Arnaud, Danny Ramirez, Rebecca Watson. A radio DJ, attempting to break the world record for staying awake, is beset by a troubled caller warning him to raise $5 million for charity or face disturbing consequences.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

(CBS/Lionsgate) Zoe Margaret Colletti, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Michael Garza. A group of teens find a book of terrifying tales written by a young girl named Sarah whose terrible images turn out to be all too real.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and a promo here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references)

Them That Follow

(1091) Olivia Colman, Kathryn Dever, Walton Goggins, Jim Gaffigan. In this 2019 Florida Film Festival favorite, a young girl raised in a church that practices serpent handling, the pastor prepares for his daughter’s wedding, which unwittingly unleashes a secret that may change the girl’s perception of her father forever.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for ] language, thematic elements, some suggestive content and brief smoking images)
 

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bring the Soul: The Musical
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Light of My Life
Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai
Parey Hut Love

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Best Summer of My Life
The Bravest
Bring the Soul: The Musical
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Jabariya Jodi
Manmadhudu 2
Nekrotronic
Nerkonda Paarvai
The Quiet One

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Bravest
Hamlet Pheroun
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Jabariya Jodi
Kobbari Matta
Nerkonda Paarvai

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Brian Banks
The Kitchen
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Them That Follow

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Popcorn Frights Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale

Chuck (2017)


Liev Schreiber gets ready to take on the role of Chuck Wepner.

(2017) Sports Biography (IFC) Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Michael Rapaport, Jim Gaffigan, Pooch Hall, Jason Jones, Morgan Spector, Sadie Sink, Zina Wilde, Catherine Corcoran, Wass Stevens, Angela Marie Ray, Liz Celeste, Ivan Martin, Joe Starr, Jen Ponton, William Hill, Mark Borkowski, Marell Miniutti, Leslie Lyles, Megan Sikora. Directed by Phillippe Falardeau

 

America loves an underdog and perhaps there’s been no bigger underdog in U.S. boxing history than Chuck Wepner. A journeyman heavyweight in the 1970s based in Bayonne, New Jersey, he’d had a decent enough career, winning the Jersey State Heavyweight Championship but had never really fought any of the big dogs of the era – until 1975.

Wepner (Schreiber) has a certain amount of local fame as he is treated like he’d won the heavyweight championship of the world. Of course, admiration doesn’t put food on the table so he runs a liquor route to make ends meet. His wife Phyliss (Moss) endures the boxing in which he takes terrible beatings but Chuck tends to have a wandering eye – and the other body parts unfortunately wander as well. The marriage is most definitely sailing through rough waters and while Chuck is devoted to his daughter Kimberly (Sink) his ego tends to get in the way of making smart choices.

After Ali (Hall) wins the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman, his manager Don King invites Wepner to fight for the championship against Ali, then just a little past his prime. The match is expected to be a joke but Wepner gives Ali everything he can handle, coming just 18 seconds away from going the distance until Ali, angered that Wepner had knocked him down, pummeled him into a technical knockout. Still, Wepner became a folk hero.

A young out-of-work actor named Sylvester Stallone (Spector) sees the fight and is inspired to write a character based on Wepner – Stallone names him Rocky Balboa. The rest is history and although Wepner has nothing to do with the movie itself, he feels a sense of accomplishment when the movie wins multiple Oscars as if he had been responsible. He starts billing himself as “The Real Rocky.”

But all the accolades and adulation get Chuck’s ego spiraling out of control and he spends the Disco Decade in debauchery, doing drugs, drinking heavily and partying with women. Having had enough, Phyliss leaves him for good and Chuck sinks into a deep depression fueled by drugs and alcohol. Standing by him is his estranged brother John (Rapaport), his best friend (Gaffigan), his longtime manager (Perlman) and a barmaid named Linda (Watts) who is unimpressed with Chuck’s fame. Will it be enough to get him back on the straight and narrow?

Because the stories are so similar, the first part of the film comes off as kind of a Rocky Lite which may or may not be what the filmmakers intended. Then, in a sense, it all goes off the rails as Wepner gets lost in the trappings of fame, 70s style – discos, tons of drugs, tons of sex. It turns into a cautionary tale at that point which is diametrically different to the underdog story that it began as.

One of the things that really caught my attention is that Falardeau accomplishes either digitally or by using film stock the look of era movies which helps keep you right in the 70s. The trappings of the time – the truly obnoxious hair, the boxy cars, the outlandish clothes and the pulse of disco – further set the tone.

Schreiber of late has gotten notoriety for playing the Hollywood fixer Ray Donovan on Showtime and I can’t help but notice that while both Donovan and Wepner are violent men, Donovan is clever and street smart while Wepner is easily swayed by praise. Wepner has an ego which makes some sense since he came from a background in which his ego along with his body took a pounding. When everybody loves you, it’s hard not to love yourself.

While there is some humor to the movie it falls flat in that regard a little more often than I would have liked. The humor is a bit heavy-handed and the movie would have benefited from a lighter tone overall. As for the story, some of you might be aware of Wepner’s history but most people won’t; still, the story is a bit predictable even though it is based on Wepner’s life. Hollywood has had lots of Wepners in its history.

As boxing movies go, this one isn’t going to make any grand changes to the genre but it doesn’t disgrace itself either. It’s entertaining enough and for those who are wary of the big summer blockbusters that are taking up most of the screens in the local multiplex, this makes a very entertaining counter option.

REASONS TO GO: The movie was shot to look like it was filmed in the 70s which enhances the sense of era.  Schreiber is appealing as Wepner in a Ray Donovan-esque way.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmaker needed a lighter touch here. Overall the film is inoffensive but predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of profanity, plenty of drug use, some sexuality and nudity, a lot of boxing violence and a few bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled The Bleeder in reference to Wepner’s boxing nickname “The Bayonne Bleeder.” Wepner claims the title changed due to it sounding like a horror film but it is also well-known that he detested the nickname.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/26/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ali
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Power Rangers

Misery Loves Comedy


Hanks talks comedy.

Hanks talks comedy.

(2014) Documentary (Tribeca) Freddie Prinze Jr., Amy Schumer, Tom Hanks, Jim Gaffigan, Christopher Guest, Jon Favreau, Jason Reitman, Steve Coogan, Kathleen Madigan, Martin Short, Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Andy Richter, Jim Norton, Kelly Carlin, Marc Maron, Lewis Black, Bobby Cannavale, Kevin Smith, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Chris Hardwick, Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, Greg Proopst, Kumal Nanjiani, Jimmy Pardo, Maria Bamford. Directed by Kevin Pollak

Comedy is like a drug, both to the audience and the comedian. The audience uses the jokes as a means of escaping their daily lives, a way to find insight into those lives and a way to realize that just about nothing is above laughing at or about. The comedian feeds on their laughter, the laughter a validation of their craft and indirectly of themselves.

This documentary, directed by veteran comic, actor and impressionist Pollak who never appears on-camera but can be heard conducting the interview off-camera, has more than 40 subjects many of whom are on the A-list of stand-ups and several of whom have graduated on to bigger and better things. Some of the interviewees are comic actors, others directors of comedies. There are many more interviewees than we had room for at the top of this review, with Rob Brydon, Janeane Garafalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Jeffries, Robert Smigel, Larry Miller, David Koechner, Stephen Merchant, Nick Swardson, Gregg Hughes, William H. Macy and hordes of others.

The interviews don’t really go into the mechanics of comedy – putting together an act, writing jokes and so on – but more into how people become professional stand-ups. It looks at the influences of the various comics, and at what life events prompted them to become comedians. Many of the people interview have traumas at some point in their lives that prompted them to go into comedy, using standup almost as therapy.

It isn’t required for a comedian to be miserable, muses one of them, but “you have to know misery.” That makes a lot of sense when you think about it; to understand what makes people laugh you also have to understand what makes them cry. A good comedian can do both.

You do get a real sense of the insecurities that haunt a lot of the comics; they talk about what it’s like to bomb, what it’s like to kill and how comics bond together hoping that they all succeed. Nobody likes to follow a comic that bombed; the audience is less primed to laugh. When you follow someone who just killed, it’s not only easier to get the audience to laugh but they also laugh harder. Laughter multiplies exponentially.

One thing that is kind of glaring; there is only one African-American comic and no Latino comics among the forty or so interviewees and quite frankly, there’s too many interviewees to begin with. I would have liked to have seen a little more diversity in the interviews which might have given us some different perspectives. A lot of the stories the comics told about not being accepted in high school and so on were a little bit too similar; getting the perspective of minority comics might have really made for a more three-dimensional take on comedy than what we received.

Yes, there are a lot of laughs here but there are some truly affecting moments, as when Prinze talks about his father’s suicide and how it affected he and his mother. Indirectly, Prinze Junior went into stand-up mainly because his grandfather urged him to “clean up what your father effed up” which for a young kid can be kind of a daunting burden, considering the fame his dad had. Bamford also tells us about the first time she talked about her time in a mental hospital onstage, prompting others in the audience to shout out their own experiences. It must be a very powerful thing, having the ability to help others heal through the gift of laughter. It’s also a nice little grace note that the movie was dedicated to Robin Williams, whose suicide likely had people in the business thinking about the link between misery and comedy.

This isn’t a complete primer on what makes us laugh and how the people who make us laugh do it, but it does give us some insight into the mind of the standup comedian and of the others who make us laugh on the big and small screens. It is said that laughter is the best medicine; this is essentially over-the-counter stuff but it gets the job done.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of laughs as you’d expect hanging out with comedians. Powerful in places. Gives the viewer a sense of what the life of a standup comedian is like and why people do it.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many interviewees and only one African-American one and no Latinos. A little bit too scattershot.
FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly foul language and some adult comedy.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pollak is best known for his standup routine and celebrity impressions, most notably Peter Falk and William Shatner.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Aristocrats
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Water Diviner

New Releases for the Week of May 8, 2015


Hot PursuitHOT PURSUIT

(New Line) Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew del Negro, John Carroll Lynch, Mike Birbiglia, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Mosley. Directed by Anne Fletcher

After the death of a drug kingpin, the Texas underground is turned upside down as it appears his widow may be telling the secrets of her late husband to the authorities. With murderous gunmen and crooked cops gunning for her, it is up to a serious, by-the-book Texas Ranger to keep her alive and deliver her to the courts to make her testimony. That is, if the Ranger doesn’t kill the outrageous, outgoing, sexy and impulsive widow first.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material)

The D-Train

(IFC) Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor. Dan Landsman aspired to be the cool guy in high school but could never quite rise above the strata of nebbish that he had been assigned to. Now years later planning the big reunion, he finally gets his chance if he can bring to the party the coolest guy in school – who happens to be the face of a national tanning lotion ad campaign.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Selected Theaters
Rating: R (for strong sexual material, nudity, language and drug use)

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

(Music Box) Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Shmil Ben Ari, Gabi Amrani. In Israeli society, there are no civil marriages; every marriage takes place within the Jewish faith and can only be dissolved if both parties give permission and a tribunal of rabbis agree, Viviane Amsalem has been trapped in a loveless marriage and has been attempting to secure a divorce for three years, but her devout husband refuses to give her one despite the fact that he has been as miserable in the marriage as she has. This Oscar-nominated film points out the absurdity of the system as everything, no matter how minute, is brought up for scrutiny by the rabbis.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Ride

(Screen Media) Helen Hunt, Brenton Thwaites, Luke Wilson, David Zayas. When her son drops out of college to surf and find himself, a New York mom flies to Southern California, ostensibly to talk him out of this course of action. Unable to sway him, she decides instead to try and understand him and takes up surfing herself with the unexpected effect of finding herself.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for some language and drug use)

Welcome to Me

(Alchemy) Kirsten Wiig, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine, Tim Robbins. A slightly mentally unstable woman wins the lottery and puts the money to good use – by buying herself a talk show in which the daily subject is…herself. This was the opening night film at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use)

It’s Kind of a Funny Story


It's Kind of a Funny Story

Zach Galifianakis tries to pretend he's listening to Keir Gilchrist

(2010) Dramedy (Focus) Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Zoe Kravitz, Aasif Mandvi, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Jeremy Davies, Bernard White, Jared Goldstein, Alan Aisenberg, Thomas Mann, Rosalyn Coleman.  Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

The human mind is a funny thing and never is it funnier than when we are adolescents. I’m not talking funny ha-ha here, but the other kind of funny. That dichotomy in term makes the title of this movie a double entendre that is worth considering before viewing it.

Craig (Gilchrist) is a young 15 year old boy who feels unbelievable pressure, particularly from his dad (Gaffigan) to achieve. That pressure has become so intense that he is considering taking a swan dive off the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead, he calls a suicide prevention line and is directed to a local hospital where a doctor (Mandvi) evaluates him.

Although the doc is reluctant to, Craig insists on being kept there and finally the doctor agrees when Craig threatens to kill himself if discharged. What Craig doesn’t realize is that the observation is five days, not the several hours he thought it would be – and the teen wing is being renovated so the teens were scattered among the adult psychiatric population.

He is taken under the wing of Bobby (Galifianakis), someone who has been there awhile and whose marriage and relationship with his daughter is crumbling. Still, Bobby knows all the ins and outs of the system and encourages Craig to follow his dream and as it turns out, Craig’s dreams are a whole lot different than the ones his father and mother (Graham) have for him.

He falls for a girl (Roberts) who’s pretty messed up but a better fit for him than the uptight Nia (Kravitz) whom he has a big time crush on and who has been dating his best friend. Strangely, Craig’s incarceration has made him a celebrity among his classmates and rather thinking him  a freak, they think him more of a rebel and a hero.

This comes from the acclaimed directing team that directed Half-Nelson and Sugar. This is the first movie the team of Boden and Fleck have made that wasn’t an original screenplay. It is also a bit more comedic than their first two efforts, although there were certainly elements of comedy in Sugar. Here, the big star is not necessarily the focus of the movie (Craig is) and unfortunately, while that may be a bold move it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Galifianakis is especially good here. Most of us know him from his comedic roles as in Due Date and the Hangover movies but he shows surprising dramatic range here. He creates sympathy for Bobby who has made some very major mistakes that he might not be able to come back from. Still he manages to put up the veneer which crumbles if prodded too much.

Davis is also fine as Craig’s psychiatrist. She has that irritating manner that some psychiatrists have of being so non-committal as to be almost not human. Not that Davis is non-human here – she does show her humanity in spots – but her objectivity remains clear throughout. It’s an impressive performance in a role that might not get noticed for it. Veteran character actors Davies and Mandvi bring some quirkiness to their roles.

Roberts and Kravitz are both young performers with impeccable pedigrees (Roberts with father Eric and aunt Julia, Kravitz with father Lenny and mother Lisa Bonet) and bright futures. Although they are basically there to be played off of one another and to make a tug-of-war situation with Craig’s heartstrings. Roberts plays against type as a kind of tattooed rebel girl while Kravitz plays the self-centered object of Craig’s affections. Both are memorable in roles which could very easily have been forgotten if left in the hands of less capable actresses.

The trouble with the movie here is that it seems to take a long time meandering down the garden path with apparently no fixed destination and in no particular hurry to get there. Worse still, the path looks strangely familiar and you’ll probably recognize your own footprints on it. That’s not a good feeling when you’re taking your time to get to a destination that you suspect is going to be a place you’ve already visited dozens of times.

There are enough good performances here to make the movie worth your time, but the script holds it back from being a real major release. Still, it’s encouraging to see Galifianakis give such a layered performance. It bodes well for the man’s future in Hollywood, which gets rosier with every film he makes.

WHY RENT THIS: Galifianakis shows some surprising range in his first real dramatic role. Fine supporting work from Davies, Davis, Kravitz, Mandvi and Roberts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat formulaic with a predictable outcome.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of sex and drugs and language, and the overall theme is on the mature side.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the “Under Pressure” montage, Craig is dressed as Vanilla Ice who notoriously sampled the bass line for his “Ice Ice Baby.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s some footage from the New York red carpet premiere.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.5M on an $8M production budget; the movie was a financial flop.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Tangled

Going the Distance


 

Going the Distance

Getting typecast in romantic comedies can make any actress a little catty.

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Natalie Morales, Kelli Garner, June Diane Raphael, Rob Riggle, Terry Beaver, Matt Servitto, Sarah Burns, Taylor Schwenke.  Directed by Nanette Burstein

Long distance romances are a fact of modern life. People meet online, or find jobs halfway across the country; in other words, things happen. Modern technology makes these kinds of relationships much easier than they were a decade ago, but it is still a very difficult proposition.

Erin (Barrymore) is a summer intern at a New York newspaper. She’s hoping to parlay the internship into a full-time job, but there aren’t any to be had so it will be back to San Francisco for further graduate work at Stanford in the fall. She loves New York and wants to be in the middle of things there, but she’ll have to check back in a year; hopefully there will be some available jobs then.

Garrett (Long) is a commitment-phobic guy who works for a record company. While he is passionate about music, he hates his job as the label, terrified at the economic enviornment for record labels, is only going for what appear to be safe acts that are going to generate revenue as opposed to making great music.  His personal life is no better; he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend, unable to understand why they leave him and wondering what it is that he’s missing in his personality to make relationships work. His friend Box (Sudeikis) and roommate Dan (Day) think his best bet is going to the bar and tying one on.

At the same bar is Erin. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the two are going to meet. It also isn’t a stretch to figure out they’re going to hit it off and over Erin’s last six weeks, fall in love. And that once the six weeks are over, they’re going to want to continue the relationship from afar.

That much is a given. However, what is really surprising is that the obstacles that the couple faces aren’t manufactured. They are the kind of things long-distance daters deal with every day. Both Erin and Garrett are working in industries that are on the endangered list;  jobs aren’t plentiful so they are pretty much stuck where they are and that is really what separates the two of them.

There’s a good deal of sex here which is also part and parcel of the long-distance experience. On those occasions they do get together it’s hard to keep their hands off of each other (or other body parts). Sometimes that can lead to fairly embarrassing situations involving dining room tables and paper-thin bedroom walls. That also shows in their phone conversations, and in their relationships with other people. In short, they are both sexually frustrated and constantly horny.

Barrymore projects one of the sweetest natures in show biz, much like Meg Ryan did a decade ago, and has quietly become one of the most reliable romantic comedy actresses in the business. She is sweet but with a core of steel; she takes no crap and stands up for what she believes in both onscreen and off. It is also a good bet that whenever you get a movie that Barrymore is in, the soundtrack is going to be rich with great indie rock acts, and this one is no different in that regard.

Erin has a great relationship with her uptight sister (Applegate) and her somewhat pedantic brother-in-law (Gaffigan) and their devil-spawn daughter Maya (Schwenke). But it is Box and Dan that nearly steal the show; every time they are onscreen, something is going on that’s going to at least make you giggle. Most of the comedy that goes on in this romantic comedy is coming from them.

Justin Long has never been one of my favorite actors, but he does what he does very very well. He seems to be mellowing and maturing as time goes by, which is slowly turning my opinion of him. Here he has a natural chemistry with Barrymore that makes the relationship even more believable. He has a hangdog look and some natural comic timing which I’ve seen in other movies as well as in some of his television work; unfortunately the few comic bits he gets to do really are some of the least successful in the film.

It’s no secret that American romantic comedies have been slowly fading in quality over the past several years. Part of the reason for that has to do with most writers following the same formula; boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are separated by misunderstanding or circumstance and they reconnect in the final reel. Studios will allow no departures from the formula, mainly because these kinds of movies tend to do really well at the box office.

This movie more or less follows the same formula, but fortunately does it in an entirely organic way so that it doesn’t feel formula. As I said earlier, most of the obstacles in the relationship evolve out of real world obstacles. There are no comic misunderstandings, no forced breakups; just two people who love each other that is separated by the circumstances of their lives and frustrated by it.

I also admired that Barrymore didn’t try to play a sweet young thing in her mid-20s. Here, she is in her 30s and trying to make up for lost time after a failed relationship. It made sense and contributed to the overall realism of the movie.

I’m not exactly sure why the movie was exiled to the frozen wasteland that is the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a very poor movie-going weekend. This is a solid, charming little film that doesn’t force its charm nor does it rely on its stars to elevate mediocre material. It isn’t going to rewrite the manual for romantic comedies, but it at least delivers on the formula in a way that isn’t the same old thing. I, for one, appreciate that.

REASONS TO GO: Barrymore is perhaps the most reliable rom-com actress in the business today. This is a romantic comedy that has its feet planted in the real world.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many typical rom-com clichés pepper the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll be seeing far more of Justin Long than perhaps anybody was ever meant to see; there is also a share of bad language and sexual references that is more than average. There’s also one scene of extended marijuana use; if you’re okay with all of that, let your kids have at it. Otherwise, older teens and above would be my recommendation.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Barrymore and Long are a couple in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a good movie to pop up some popcorn in the microwave, grab a couple of sodas from the fridge and cuddle up next to your honey on the couch for.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My One and Only