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

The Great New Wonderful


The Great New Wonderful

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Edie Falco share a tense lunch.

(First Independent) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tony Shalhoub, Olympia Dukakis, Edie Falco, Judy Greer, Will Arnett, Jim Gaffigan, Naseerudin Shah, Stephen Colbert, Sharat Saxena, Tom McCarthy, Billy Donner. Directed by Danny Leiner

New York City is without a doubt one of the greatest cities in the world. It throbs with the vitality of its citizens, and as the song says, never sleeps. One day in 2001 would change the meaning of what it is to be a New Yorker forever.

A year after that day, the citizens of New York are getting on with their lives for the most part. Sandie (Gaffigan) is talking to a somewhat unorthodox psychiatrist (Shalhoub) about anger issues which Sandie doesn’t think he has. With each session, Sandie becomes more and more frustrated and his anger seems to be more directed at the doctor than culled from some internal reservoir.

David (McCarthy) and Allison (Greer) are the young parents of Beelzebub, otherwise known as Charlie (Donner). Their young son has been acting out and these actions have grown exponentially worse as time has gone by. They are beginning to realize that he is becoming beyond their ability to control and as a result, their marriage is suffering. The headmaster (Colbert) of the exclusive private school they have sent him to is expelling him for his behavior and they have no idea what to do with their child.

Emme (Gyllenhaal) is an up-and-coming pastry chef in New York’s cutthroat bakery market and looks to unseat Safarah Polsky (Falco) as the reigning queen of the scene. Her ambition is driving her to use means both fair and foul to reach her goals, and she is unknowing or uncaring of the toll it takes on those who work with her, live with her or purchase her products.

Judy (Dukakis) lives with her husband across the East River in Brighton Beach in the borough of Brooklyn. Each night she fixes him dinner, then after eating makes collages while he smokes out on the balcony. Her re-connection with an old friend will open new doors and awaken new feelings of sensuality in her.

Two Indian-born New York resident security guards – Avi (Shah) and Satish (Saxena) have been given the assignment of watching over a dignitary from their native land while he is in New York to make a speech at the United Nations. Avi is carefree, joyful and humorous; his buddy Satish is dour, grumpy and prone to outbursts of rage. It’s hard to believe these two are neighbors, let alone friends.

All five of these stories carry little in common other than that they are set in New York a year to the month of the World Trade Center attack, and that all ten of the main characters share an elevator near the end of the movie. It is up to us to thread these stories together and quite frankly, it’s a bit of a stretch.

What one notices most is the emotional disconnect prevalent in almost all of the stories. The characters have latched onto some sort of idea or emotion and are holding onto it with a death grip, to the exclusion of all else. The self-absorption needed for this kind of focus is staggering, and yet those familiar with the New York of Woody Allen or The New Yorker magazine will not find it particularly far-fetched.

There is a routine also in each one of the main character’s lives and that routine is either a source of comfort or a fiendish trap. Breaking out of that routine seems to be, at least I’m guessing here, what the filmmakers suggest is the key to finding happiness, solace, call it whatever you want.

This is a very impressive cast for a micro-budget indie drama and they live up to their reputations for the most part. The vignette with the least-known actors in it (at least to those not familiar with Indian cinema), the one regarding Avi and Satish, was my own personal favorite as I found Avi to be the least hung-up of the main characters here.

I admit to having a certain fascination with everyday life in the Big Apple. I fully realize I don’t have the equipment to live there myself – it takes a certain kind of person to handle the pace and the feeling of being alone in a crowd that goes hand-in-hand with the NYC lifestyle. Still, I admire those who have what it takes and certainly New York offers perhaps the most attractive and varied choices for those who live there. I’m not sure if The Great Big Wonderful offers me any further insight into the psyche of New York, nor how it was affected by 9-11, but it does offer a nice visit to that town; I’m just not sure I would want to live there.

WHY RENT THIS: A solid cast gives solid performances. Some of the vignettes are interesting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not all of the vignettes hold my attention. The linking thread is tenuous at best; this is certainly much more of a New York story than anything else.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fairly significant amount of salty language in the movie as well as a small amount of sexuality. Much more suitable for a mature audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Leiner is best known for comedies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Dude, Where’s My Car.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: 12

Away From Her


Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent look out onto an uncertain future.

Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent look out onto an uncertain future.

(Lionsgate) Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Wendy Crewson, Michael Murphy, Kristen Thomson, Alberta Watson, Grace Lynn Kung, Stacey LaBerge. Directed by Sarah Polley.

One of the horrors of aging is Alzheimer’s disease. The effect of the disease on the afflicted person is devastating, but the effect on the loved ones can be even more harsh.

Grant Anderson (Pinsent) and his wife Fiona (Christie) have a good life. They’ve retired to a beautiful cabin in rural Ontario and live comfortably, surrounded by the accumulations of a long life together. However, there are some disturbing signs of change coming into their lives; Fiona is growing increasingly more forgetful, and has started to do some odd things, as when they are putting dishes away after a meal and she puts the frying pan into the freezer.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the practical Fiona has no desire to subject Grant to the agony of caring for her while she slowly and inevitably deteriorates. She makes the unilateral decision to check out a local nursing home. At first upset at his wife for acting on her own, he bows to her strong will and sensibility and drives her to the facility.

Once there, they find a pleasant environment with a caring staff but Grant balks when the facility’s director (Watson) informs him that he won’t be allowed to see his wife for 30 days while she adjusts to her new residence. He begs Fiona to reconsider, but she is firm and with a final sweet goodbye, sends him away. When he returns, the changes in her are pronounced. She’s developed a relationship with Aubrey (Murphy), a mute patient whom she cares for as a nurse for a patient. Whether the relationship is more than that isn’t clear; Grant wasn’t faithful to her early in their marriage and he wonders if she’s taking revenge for that. Some days she seems to recognize him, others it’s clear she has no clue who he is. Devastated, Grant takes advice from a sympathetic nurse (Thomson) and Aubrey’s wife (Dukakis), a practical, plain-spoken woman who sees the inevitable but can’t quite bring herself to let go.

Director Polley, best known as an actress in such films as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the “John Adams” miniseries as well as an impressive roster of indie movies, proves to be a director of enormous potential. She brings a deft touch to a subject matter that could easily become maudlin in less capable hands. Her gaze is unflinching and honest but never feels forced. The Andersons are robust and handsome in their age, but they aren’t archetypes; they’re real people with flaws and no clear direction of what to do. That’s a tribute to the original Alice Munro short story it was adapted from and also to Polley’s writing for which she was Oscar-nominated.

Most of the movie takes place in the winter, but Polley resists the temptation to make the film overcast and gloomy. Instead, nearly everything takes place in bright winter sunlight reflecting off the snow that sparkles like diamonds. The winter metaphor works for that reason without becoming cliché.

Christie and Pinsent are in every scene, either separately or together, and they both deliver outstanding performances. While Christie was recognized with an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win, I found Pinsent’s performance more riveting as he captures the agony and desperation of a good man seeing the love of his life deteriorate before his eyes.

Despite the acclaim and Oscar buzz, this Canadian production didn’t receive widespread distribution here in the States. Nevertheless this is a movie worth seeking out not just for the subject matter, which may be off-putting for those with phobias about aging and the issues that the elderly face, but also for the on-screen performances which are as compelling as any you’ll see in a small film like this. You may also want to rent it if for no other reason, to mark the occasion of the emergence of a great director who is bound to release some wonderful movies as her career progresses.

WHY RENT THIS: Outstanding performances by the entire cast, particularly the two leads. Beautiful snow-covered exteriors in rural Ontario. An impressive script that never stoops to emotional manipulation or maudlin clichés.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Subject matter may be too age-centric for some. Some of the subplots are merely touched upon without satisfying resolutions.

FAMILY VALUES: The subject matter may be a bit too intense for kids wondering why grandpa is so forgetful.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lionsgate paid $750,000 for the rights to distribute this film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing notable on the American release; however Canadian readers might look into the 2-Disc special edition for a short film from Polley entitled I Shout Love as well as additional film commentary from Christie.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Strayed (Les Egares)