That Awkward Moment


Zac Efron is confident he's the prettiest one of the trio.

Zac Efron is confident he’s the prettiest one of the trio.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (Focus) Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin, Josh Pais, Evelina Turen, Karen Ludwig, Tina Benko, Joseph Adams, Lola Glaudini, John Rothman, Barbara Garrick, Reif Larsen, Kate Simses, Emily Meade, Alysia Reiner, Julia Morrison. Directed by Tom Gormican

CINEMAOFTHEHEART-3

According to Jason (Efron), a book cover designer and long time player, any sentence uttered by a woman that you are seeing that begins with the word “So…” is an intimation of impending catastrophe. It is the linchpin of any relationship; the moment that a relationship moves from “dating” to “boyfriend/girlfriend.” It is the type of commitment that guys like Jason find to be about as repellent as walking barefoot over a floor covered in broken glass and scorpions.

He works with his buddy Daniel (Teller) who is basically a 16-year-old in a twenty-something’s body. Daniel uses Jason’s friend Chelsea (Davis) as a means of meeting women for one-night stands (Jason needs no help for that). The two have a third musketeer, Mikey (Jordan), a married doctor but Mikey’s just been hit by a bombshell; his wife Vera (Lucas) has been cheating on him with Harold, a lawyer who looks suspiciously like Morris Chestnut.

Mikey is depressed as all get-out and Daniel knows exactly what he needs – a night in a bar drinking and picking up some chick for a night’s entertainment. Mikey makes a connection with a young lady in glasses (Simses) who gives him her number to use “when (you’re) ready” while Jason ends up with a cute blonde named Ellie (Poots) who has an unusually high number of condoms in her apartment and wears hooker boots. Seeing as the New Yorker just printed an article on hookers in the East End dressing like hipsters, the perpetually broke Jason makes a pre-dawn run for it, fearing Ellie will be asking him for payment in the morning.

The three friends decide to make a pact, all of them having had a wonderful time the evening before – all three will remain single for as long as possible to keep the party going. Mikey is still a little hung up on his ex but agrees that he hadn’t had that much fun in quite some time.

It turns out Ellie isn’t a prostitute – she works for a publishing company that Jason’s socially awkward boss Fred (Pais) is courting. D’oh!  As it turns out, Ellie and Jason end up falling hard for each other. Daniel winds up falling hard for Chelsea – and she for him, hard as it is to believe. And as for Mikey, his attempts to reconcile with Vera turn out far better than he expected. Of course, all three of them, not wishing to look bad in the eyes of their friends, hide their relationships from each other. And of course all three of these geniuses end up imperiling their relationships because of their lack of communication. When will they ever learn?

I understand that this was on the Hollywood Black List of best unproduced scripts of 2012 and I have to wonder how on earth it got there, unless substantial revisions were made during filming. The movie is chock full of the same old tired rom-com clichés that have made nearly all of the romantic comedies produced by Hollywood over the past decade nearly identical in nature. It’s a form of chauvinism, thinking women will settle for the same old thing year after year…although considering some of the relationship choices I’ve seen some of my women friend make during that time, perhaps the studio bigwigs are on to something.

I haven’t been a great Zac Efron fan I have to admit but he does make a pretty decent romantic lead. He’s certainly got the looks and the abs for it and while his acting chops are pretty weak, the same thing could be said for both Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum at the same point in their careers and in both of the above I’ve seen a ton of improvement in that department. I could see Efron becoming a really good actor down the line.

Jordan is an amazing actor but he is hardly utilized here, essentially playing the role of the African-American friend. He has a few decent moments in the film and his banter with Teller and Efron is natural and unforced, something you can’t always say for the other two.

It is the women who fare best here. Poots has done some sterling work in films like A Late Quartet gets the meatiest role and makes the most of it; her expression as she stares at Efron as he goes through his antics is definitely worth a thousand words at least. This British actress has the kind of ability that is possessed by Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams; hopefully she’ll start to get some A-list roles sent her way soon.

While there are some new romantic movies opening up just in time for Valentine’s Day (especially the anticipated Winter’s Tale) as I have not seen them yet I can’t really recommend them much and for my money this is the best romantic movie in theaters at the moment; ladies will swoon over the handsome Efron and guys will appreciate the banter and relationship between the men which is pretty genuine. So fellas, this is a rom-com that you can actually enjoy without feeling you are enduring it for the sake of your woman’s tender attentions after the credits roll.

REASONS TO GO: Efron becoming a solid romantic lead. Occasionally very funny. Authentic relationship between the guys.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many rom-com clichés.

FAMILY VALUES:  Lots of foul language, even more sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally to be released by FilmDistrict but after Focus absorbed that distribution company (their production side remains independent) this became the first FilmDistrict property to be distributed by Focus.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 22% positive reviews. Metacritic: 36/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: About Last Night

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Cinema of the Heart continues!

Don Jon


Can't take my eyes off of you.

Can’t take my eyes off of you.

(2013) Romantic Comedy (Relativity) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Paul Ben-Victor, Italia Ricci, Lindsey Broad, Amanda Perez, Sarah Dumont, Sloane Avery, Loanne Bishop, Arin Babaian, Antoinette Kalaj, Arayna Eison, Becky O’Donohue. Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The nature of romance and sexuality largely remains a mystery for most of us. Men don’t understand the draw of the romantic fantasy to women and women have trouble understanding why men are so obsessed with pornography. Now, while it is true that there are some women who have a porn addiction and some men who are romantics at heart, largely the stereotypes hold.

Jon Martello Jr. (Gordon-Levitt) has a pretty good life. He’s a Jersey boy who knows what he likes and pretty much has things lined up; his apartment, his boys Bobby (Brown) and Danny (Luke), his family – Mom (Headly), Dad (Danza) and his sister Monica (Larson) who is too busy texting and rolling her eyes to get a word in – and his church, his car (a sweet Chevy from the golden age of metal) and girls. His buddies call him “The Don” because he scores a hot looking chick every time he goes out clubbing. Every time, an 8 or above.

But that isn’t enough for Jon. You see, sex is all well and good but what really satisfies him is masturbating to porn. He even has his own method – starting off slow, with still pictures and working his way up to video clips until he finds the right one he can lose himself in. When he gets off to porn, everything else goes away, not to mention that the actresses in the clips will do things for their partners that no real woman will do for Jon.

Then one night in the clubs he meets Barbara Sugarman (Johansson), a blonde Jersey queen who takes most of her cues from Snooki (except for the horrid orange spray tan look). She’s so hot that Jon’s got to have her except she doesn’t put out so easily. So, as Bobby tells him, he needs to get out his long game. Wine and dine her, romance her. Do the kind of things that boyfriends do for their girlfriends.

The problem is that Jon doesn’t just want to get into her pants; he thinks she might just be The One. To show her his commitment, he agrees to take night classes so that he can move up the service industry ladder. Unfortunately, Barbara catches Jon at his obsession one night and makes him agree to not watch porn which she finds disgusting.

At first Jon does his best but he needs the release so he starts doing his porn on the side, even on his smart phone during lectures in class which attracts the notice of Esther (Moore), an older lady that Jon sees crying in the parking lot one night. Soon she seems to be making a move on him which Jon isn’t really interested in – he’s got Barbara after all and she’s at last giving it up for him – but there are cracks in the foundation of paradise and soon Jon will either have to give up his porn or Barbara.

The crux of the movie has to do with expectations and need. Sure there’s a lot of nudity, brief glimpses of porn stars humping and a whole lot of sexuality but that’s not really the point of the film, although quite frankly there are those who won’t be able to get past all that, either in a positive or negative way. All some will see is the sex and they will react to it according to their own morality either as a prurient interest or with prudish disgust. It’s simply an occupational hazard for a film like this.

That said if you look beyond the boobs and the moans you’ll actually find a thoughtful movie that looks at the nature of men and women and the differences between them, as typified by Jon. I think there are a lot of women out there who genuinely cannot understand the fascination that porn has for men and this movie might go a long way towards explaining it. Porn is a fantasy the same way a romantic movie is a fantasy for Barbara. The happy ending for her is a prince of a man who will sacrifice everything for her, be completely devoted to her and adore her 24/7. Jon’s happy ending is, well, a happy ending.

Actually that’s not quite fair. As Jon explains it, he fantasizes about the sexual acts that most women won’t even consider granting him (i.e. oral sex, doggie style) because for the most part they want the missionary position. To him, a woman who is willing to do those things for him is the equivalent of Barbara’s prince. In both cases, the egos of each of them are being catered to by their partner. In some ways both of them are children of our time – completely self-absorbed without a thought of what they are giving to their partner, only receiving from them.

Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed this, looks like he watched a lot of Jersey Shore to get his character down – The Situation, anyone? – and shows as much promise behind the camera as he does confidence in front of it. He wrote the part of Barbara with Johansson specifically in mind and she loses herself into it, becoming a Jersey Shore princess in all her gum-snapping bleached blonde glory. Barbara and Jon are both full to overflowing with that Jersey attitude – Jon screaming in road rage while he drives to church, Barbara telling Jon that he won’t do housework when they’re living together because that kind of thing is beneath her and thus, as an extension of her, beneath him as well.

In many ways Moore steals the picture. She is the conscience of the film and her character Esther is the one that introduces the sense of giving into the film. Certainly she’s one messed-up broad and we only get a glimmer into her personal tragedy. She’s not glammed up for this role; there’s wear and tear on her face but more importantly in her eyes. She ends up teaching Jon – and by extension the audience – the difference between having sex and making love.

It’s nice to see Danza and Headly, both industry veterans, on the big screen again and personally I wouldn’t mind seeing the two of them more often. The rest of the supporting cast is pretty solid with Larson making the most of her single scene of dialogue.

I wouldn’t have minded about ten more minutes of exposition fleshing out some of the main characters a bit and when you leave a film wishing it had been longer you know the filmmakers are doing something right. While those who are offended by depictions and discussion of sex are urged to give this one a wide berth, the rest of you get an enthusiastic recommendation. This is a movie that honestly and with some humor examines sex and love and how easy it is to forget that the sum of those two things is far greater than the total of their parts.

REASONS TO GO: Funny, charming and thought-provoking. Gordon-Levitt, Johansson, Moore, Danza and Headly all have strong performances.

REASONS TO STAY: The porn and sexuality might be off-putting to those sensitive to such things.

FAMILY VALUES:  Lots and lots of sexual content including graphic nudity and simulated sex (as well as simulated porn), plenty of foul language and a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gordon-Levitt and Danza previously worked together in Angels in the Outfield when Gordon-Levitt was just 12 years old.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/14/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Moonstruck

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Enough Said

The Heat


Some pictures say a thousand words; this one just says "say WHAT?!?"

Some pictures say a thousand words; this one just says “say WHAT?!?”

(2013) Buddy Cop Comedy (20th Century Fox) Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Tom Wilson, Peter Weireter, Erica Derrickson, Kaitlin Olson, Joey McIntyre, Michael Tucci, Bill Burr, Nathan Corddry, Jessica Chaffin, Jamie Denbo. Directed by Paul Feig

It is 2013 in Hollywood and after decades of inspired (and uninspired) Odd Couple buddy cop pairings, America gets its first all-woman cop buddy duo. I would think that just for being a trailblazer The Heat should get props, and it does particularly since they cast the two roles perfectly.

Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is an ambitious but uptight FBI agent. She’s very successful at closing cases but her people skills are a bit lacking. She’s smarter than most of the men around her and she knows it but what’s worse she likes to show it off. She’s eager for a promotion that she’s probably richly earned but her boss (Bichir) isn’t so sure; he instead sends her from New York to Boston to take down a mysterious drug lord who is pushing his way into the city.

Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) is a rude, crude and lewd Boston cop who intimidates her colleagues with her foul mouth, her nasty attitude and her hair-trigger temper. When she’s not abusing her boss (Wilson) – who bears more than a passing resemblance to Biff Tannen – she’s having one night stands with clingy men and bickering with her family. She’s so tough she arrested her brother Jason (Rapaport) and sent him to prison, from which he’s just emerging.

The two are more or less after the same guy. At first, of course, they are competing but when ordered to work together these lone wolves find out that there is some benefits from working in a pack. However they’re up against a very male-oriented culture which doesn’t take them seriously and to make matters worse, Mullins family is at risk from a sadistic killer (McDonald).

Melissa McCarthy broke out as a big star in a supporting role in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids and it’s no accident that he’s behind the camera for the role that may make her a superstar. This is the perfect part for McCarthy – foul-mouthed, physical with a tender side that really makes better use of her talents than this year’s earlier hit Identity Thief did. Some of her zingers were the kind that made you laugh so hard that you missed dialogue that came out after it.

She is paired perfectly with Bullock who has played tough cops before but here she allows a little prissiness to set in. She’s so lonely that her cat isn’t even hers – it’s her neighbor’s who is vexed that the cat visits “the weird lady next door.” Bullock is one of the best at playing socially awkward but extremely competent women – remember her boss from Hell in The Proposal? – and nobody does book-smart-but-people-dumb like Bullock. The chemistry between her an McCarthy is on the level of Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson/Danny Glover in the annals of cop buddies.

Although the film is groundbreaking, it’s a shame they couldn’t give the two leading ladies a groundbreaking script to work with. Despite the terrific performances of Bullock and McCarthy (and of the cast in general), the plot is such that it feels like it was written in a Screenwriting 101 class. If you’re going to have two women leading a cop buddy movie, play to the strengths of women in general instead of just having them referring to their lady parts in a series of crude jokes. Cagney and Lacey and Rizzolli and Isles were both able to do this successfully on television; while I get those shows are both more procedurals than this one, I don’t think they needed to give the women ugly male characteristics to make this funny, unless of course they’re trying to make the point that the two sexes are more alike than unalike which I can appreciate.y

In any case, this is superior summer entertainment that has that element of familiarity that Hollywood thinks American movie audiences yearn for. It bodes well for the future of McCarthy to take the throne as America’s reigning film comedienne superstar with her two big hits this year. She is clearly the reason to go see this movie and clearly looks to be as funny if not funnier than some of her highest-paid male colleagues right now.

REASONS TO GO: Bullock plays surprisingly well against type and for her part this is right in McCarthy’s wheelhouse.

REASONS TO STAY: Beyond the novelty factor of two women in the lead roles, the movie doesn’t really add much to the buddy cop genre.

FAMILY VALUES:  A buttload of bad language. Some of the content is on the crude side, and there’s a bit of violence to top it all off.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was originally set for a late spring release, but the studio, encouraged by early reception to the film, decided to move it into the summer.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100; the reviews are pretty much split but leaning towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Other Guys

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Lone Ranger (2013)

Free Samples


I think Jess Wexler looks like Winona Ryder but she just doesn't agree.

I think Jess Wexler looks like Winona Ryder but she just doesn’t agree.

(2012) Drama (Anchor Bay) Jess Wexler, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Tippi Hedren, Halley Feiffer, Keir O’Donnell, Jocelin Donahue, Whitney Able, Eben Kostbar, Jordan Davis, James Duval, Matt Walsh, Craig Gellis, Suzy Nakamura, Cory Knauf, Joseph McKelheer, Montre Burton, Madison Leisle, Joe Nunez, Angel Parker. Directed by Jay Gammill

 Florida Film Festival 2013

We all go through periods where we just seem to be treading water. Inertia deserts us and life is happening to everyone around us but not to us. We flounder in the current, not really moving anywhere and praying to God we don’t drown before we figure out which direction we need to move in.

Jillian is in just such a phase. She’s dropped out from Stanford Law School and is taking a break from her fiancée. She is adrift in Los Angeles, trying somewhat diffidently to become an artist (which is a lot harder when you aren’t particularly talented at anything) and engaging in a series of all-night binges and one night stands, the latest ending up with a cowboy hat-wearing dude that Jillian knows only as Tex (Eisenberg) in her bed. Well, it’s not really her bed – it’s her best friend Nancy’s (Feiffer) bed and she’s just sleeping in it, apparently with Tex’s hat. Tex isn’t in it at the time.

Jillian is experiencing the mother of all hangovers but since she slept in Nancy’s bed and mutual friend Wally (Ritter) – who’s in a band along with the half of L.A. that isn’t in the movies – has urinated on her couch in his alcohol-induced blissful slumber, Jillian owes her a favor; she needs to cover for Nancy at work. Jillian is oh-so-reluctant to do this, but is eventually coerced into it.

Work happens to be standing all day in an ice cream truck handing out free samples of the most godawful excuse for artificial ice cream that you’ve ever had the sorrow to try – you might well get a cup full of chilled sour cream instead – to the freeloaders and nutjobs of a neighborhood not far from hers. It’s excruciatingly boring, like having bamboo shoved up your fingernails while your genitals are sprinkled liberally with napalm, except I would assume those pursuits would probably not be strictly classified as boring. Not by me, anyway.

As she stands in the cramped confines of the truck, handing out samples to all who request one – vanilla, or chocolate (one to a customer, no exceptions) the things that are driving her life – the motivations that persuaded her to drop out of college and her relationship – are brought into focus and not in a vague, diffuse allegorical way but by the serendipity of bad luck and crushing coincidence.

Not all of it is bad. She meets Betty (Hedren), an actor of some fame who is retired, living alone in a small apartment with TCM blaring old movies (“It’s like a reunion,” Betty asserts when a heartbroken Jillian comes to visit her) whose daily highlight is a walk to the truck for a bit of free ice cream. It’s not the ice cream she craves (“it’s really awful” she confides to Jillian) but the company.

As the day ends and Nancy shows up at long last, Jillian has had an epiphany and maybe her life is about to change for the better. You know, you can gather a lot of good karma by handing out free samples.

This is mainly Wexler’s movie and for a young actress with limited experience, it can be a daunting task to carry a movie on one’s slender shoulders but Wexler – who cut her cinematic teeth in Teeth, to date the best movie about vagina dentata ever made – is up for the task and she really has two strikes against her from the onset. Jillian is something of a bitch who whines constantly, complains repeatedly and always seems to be flipping life a mental bird. She has been compared facially to Uma Thurman and I suppose I can see what they’re saying, but I think she looks and sounds more like Wynona Ryder and carries some of that actress’ spunky attitude in her demeanor.

One of the things I love most about this movie is the synergy between Jillian and Betty. Movies rarely show mentor relationships between older women and younger women that aren’t related which I’ve always found to be quite odd – older women can be friends with younger women just like older men can be friends with younger men although Hollywood doesn’t seem to have a problem with those sorts of relationships among men. Women seem to only be allowed those relationships when it’s the younger woman’s grandmother or great-aunt or some such.

The soundtrack, provided by Indie Rock wunderkinder Say Hi is one of the best I’ve heard thus far this year, one which might give the slackers who dug Juno a run for its money. At least from my admittedly non-slackeroonie perspective.

There are some flaws here, some inherent. For example, nearly all of the film takes place with the lead in the claustrophobic ice cream truck. There really are only so many ways you can shoot that, so we get a lot of standard two shots and it does get a trifle repetitious. And Wexler does such a good job as Jillian that there are times you want to give the girl a major foot in the behind with an admonition to stop complaining and start living. Of course by the end of the film she pretty much does that without the need for a boot to the ass.

It was lovely to see Hedren, the star of Hitchcock’s The Birds in the film and I was astonished at how good she looks for a 83-year-old dame. She hasn’t gotten any work that I could detect; she’s just blessed with good genes. How often do you see an 83-year-old woman that you’d seriously think of doing? Not that I actually would sweetie (ducking from the inevitable bonk on the head from Da Queen’s scepter). But if I were single…(sigh). And it was thrilling to see Ms. Hedren at the Florida Film Festival screening we attended. Such beautiful diction. (sigh)

Anyway, that aside this is a terrific indie film that takes some of the indie clichés that we’re so bloody used to and turns them on their head. At the end of the day this is about relationships and redemption, with the object lesson that rehabilitation truly comes from within. Surviving being lost in the current is one thing but swimming for shore and rescuing ourselves is quite another. Me, I’d pay for this free sample – not for the ice cream though.

REASONS TO GO: Wexler gives a terrific performance. Shows a relationship between an older woman and a younger woman who aren’t related – a rarity in Hollywood.  Terrific soundtrack.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit claustrophobic. Occasionally you want to give Jillian a shake.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of bad language and anti-social behavior.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The music composer is credited as Eric Elbogen, which is the real name of the person who is the one-man indie rock band Say Hi. Some of that band’s music is also on the soundtrack.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; this is making the rounds on the festival circuit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Future

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Evil Dead (2013)

What’s Your Number?


What's Your Number?

Anna Faris is smokin’ hot.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (20th Century Fox) Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Ari Graynor, Blythe Danner, Joel McHale, Ed Begley Jr., Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Heather Burns, Tika Sumpter, Chris Pratt, Zachary Quinto, Anthony Mackie, Andy Samberg, Martin Freeman, Dave Annable, Thomas Lennon. Directed by Mark Mylod

 

Whatever happened to romance? Well, it turned into romantic comedies which have become so formula you can predict exactly how a movie is going to play out and what the characters are going to do from beginning to end.  And lest we forget, too many times our romantic comedies confuse sex for love which is astonishing when you think about it because the target audience for these films are women who most assuredly don’t have that confusion.

Ally (Faris) used to be a columnist for a magazine – the sort that women turn to as a bible for relationship behaviors. Unfortunately she was kind of bored with the position and lost it. Now she’s unemployed just in time for her sister Daisy’s (Graynor) wedding. Her overbearing mother (Danner) is looking for her older daughter (that would be Ally) to tie the knot but Ally’s in no hurry, having been through a succession of meaningless sexual encounters that pass for relationships.

While chatting with some of her girlfriends, a recent article in Ally’s old magazine is brought up – it mentions that women who have 20 sexual partners or more are less likely to get married. All of her friends have four or five or six….or scandalously…seven…but Ally has 19.

She begins to get fixated on this number; one more sexual partner and it’s goodbye marriage. She hit upon the idea of looking through her past boyfriends to find the one who is most likely to be marriageable material. She enlists the aid of her neighbor Colin (Evans), a womanizing musician whom she detests in tracking down some of her exes in exchange for the use of her apartment in hiding from one night stands he brings to his apartment across the hall so he doesn’t have to face them when they wake up.

So she goes through a parade of weirdoes and losers that range from a ventriloquist and puppeteer (Samberg) to a gynecologist (Lennon) to a Washington insider (Mackie). However the one she thinks is most likely to succeed is Eddie Vogel (Jackson-Cohen), who comes from wealth and runs a charitable foundation for his family.

OF course, we all know that the real Mr. Right for Ally is Colin. And we know she is going to realize it eventually but the two of them are going to have a misunderstanding. And they’re both going to be miserable. And then…well, I’m sure you know how it ends.

Yes, this is very much more of the same thing and I suppose if you like this kind of movie you’ll enjoy the hell out of this. Quite frankly, Faris is kind of hit and miss for me – I’ve always looked at her as the missing link from SNL – but here she’s hit thankfully. She can be charming and lovable when she wants to be and I guess she wanted to be here.

Evans, who had just hit a new level of stardom after Captain America: The First Avenger struck box office gold, is also charming in the same way but with a touch of goofiness. He is endearing and I know a lot of women that I’m aware of find him…well, if not hot at least lukewarm.

There is a parade of exes mostly made up of character actors and comedians and there is a bit of a spot-the-celebrity vibe to it to be honest and that’s more than a little distracting. While the chemistry between Faris and Evans is there, the rest of the movie seems hastily written; the exes could have been some good comedic fodder but instead they’re just tired old characters you’ve seen over and over again. And that really is the problem here; it’s Been There Done That 101 and while the charm is there the originality is not and it could have used some to differentiate it from the pack.

I suppose that it’s harmless entertainment – and it is – and for those who don’t want to think too hard it’s perfect for the occasion – and it is – and that the leads are nice to look at – and they are – so you can’t really complain. Still you get what you pay for and the currency here is in familiarity and not originality so let the buyer beware.

WHY RENT THIS: A certain amount of charm and a bit of chemistry between Faris and Evans.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks imagination and originality. Ex-boyfriends all seem to be caricatures that you wonder why Ally would be attracted to in the first place.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of sex and sexuality and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The voice on Ally’s voice mail at the end of the film belongs to Aziz Ansari.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: In addition to the theatrical version, both the DVD and Blu-Ray releases also contain an extended version with about 13 minutes of additional footage. The Blu-Ray also has a gag reel.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $30.4M on a $20M production budget; it didn’t quite make back its production budget and marketing costs.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Sessions

Dinner for Schmucks


Dinner for Schmucks

Rolling on the floor laughing is just an Internet phrase, dammit!

(2010) Comedy (Paramount) Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Zach Galifianakis, Stephanie Szostak, Jemaine Clement, Jeff Dunham, Bruce Greenwood, Ron Livingston, Lucy Punch, David Walliams, Ron Livingston, Larry Wilmore, Kristen Schaal, P.J. Byrne, Andrea Savage . Directed by Jay Roach

There are two kinds of people in business, it is said; those with ambition and those who succeed. Those who are successful, the inference is, act on that ambition. Sometimes, the price for acting on that ambition is high indeed.

Tim Conrad (Rudd) is that kind of ambitious guy, an executive at a financial firm who wants to move up the ladder. The key to his success is landing Muller (Walliams), a Swiss multi-millionaire. His boss, Lance Fender (Greenwood), is impressed enough to invite Tim to an annual event he hosts, a dinner for winners. Tim is psyched about this until he finds out that the event is not about highlighting legitimate talents, but to find the biggest loser for which the executive who brings him gets everlasting glory.

Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Szostak), who is a curator for the eccentric artist Kieran Vollard (Clement) doesn’t like the idea much. Tim has proposed several times to Julie but she’s turned him down each time. Tim agrees not to go to the dinner, hoping this will put him over the top with Julie.

The next day Tim is driving his Porsche when he accidentally hits a man picking up a dead mouse in the street. That man is Barry Speck (Carell), and it turns out his hobby is recreating works of art as dioramas with dead mice in the place of humans in the tableaux. Tim realizes that he has found the winning loser.

When Julie finds out that Tim is going to the dinner after all she storms out of his apartment, leaving her cell phone behind. Shortly afterwards, Barry shows up having confused the dates of the dinner. He gets on Tim’s computer while Tim is occupied and gives Tim’s address to Darla (Punch), a one-night stand that Tim had before he met Julie who is now psychotically stalking Tim. To make amends for inviting her, Barry decides to guard Tim’s apartment and intercept Darla before she gets there but mistakes Julie for Darla and implies to Julie that Tim is cheating on her.

Barry acts like a cyclone in Tim’s life, innocently doing the wrong thing and making things worse when he tries to atone. Discovering that Julie is on her way to Kieran’s ranch, Barry enlists the help of his supervisor at the IRS (yes, a guy like Barry could only work at the IRS), one Therman Murch (Galifianakis) who believes he is able to control Barry with the power of his mind. Uh huh, as if. Even this turns out to be disastrous.

Tim, who was on the verge of having it all, now finds himself on the verge of losing it all. However, he will attend the dinner in a last-ditch attempt at redemption. Maybe he might even deserve it.

This is the remake of a French film by Francis Veber entitled Le Diner de Cons (translated as Dinner With Cretins). I haven’t seen it myself but I understand it is less over-the-top and a little more cerebral than this one. Roach, who has the Austin Powers franchise to his credit, takes a little more in-your-face attitude, making it more like a Farrelly Brothers effort to my mind.

One of the things the movie has going for it is Rudd and Carell. Although they’ve worked together before (notably on The Forty Year Old Virgin) they never have quite as extensively as this. They do make a good comic team, with Rudd being one of the best straight men in the business and Carell rarely getting to let loose quite as much as he does here.

There are moments that are heart-warming but there is an underlying cruelty to the concept that gives one pause. On the surface, the heart seems to be firmly on the side of the Schmucks, but there is that nagging feeling that they’re really the butt of the joke once again. From my perspective, this is decidedly uneven and will have you flushing with embarrassment as you laugh at some of the antics of the schmucks but at the end of the day, it’s still funny enough to recommend. Just.

WHY RENT THIS: The chemistry between Carell and Rudd is spot on.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Never really decides whether it’s going to be heart-warming or cruel.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of partial nudity and some crude content (sexual and otherwise) and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Early on in the film’s development, Sacha Baron Cohen was set to be the lead.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the building of the mouse dioramas by the Chiodo Brothers (directors of the cult hit Killer Klowns from Outer Space) and a skit used during the 2010 ESPY awards lampooning the LeBron James press conference with Rudd and Carell in character.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $86.4M on a $69M production budget; the movie lost money during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Mercy (2009)


Mercy

Wendy Glenn has a problem with the script.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Scott Caan, Wendy Glenn, Troy Garity, Erika Christensen, Alexie Gilmore, James Caan, Dylan McDermott, Whitney Able, John Boyd, Balthazar Getty, Kelly Lynch, Dorian Brown, Bre Blair. Directed by Patrick Hoelck

Love is as ephemeral as perfume; there in your senses one moment, disappearing on the barest puff of wind the next. We all need to bathe in it; drown in it; feel it all around us but it is the nature of love that it can be cruel as well.

Johnny Ryan (Scott Caan) is a successful author of what amounts to romance novels. Unfortunately, he may not be the best qualified man to write them. His life has been a series of one night stands and failed relationships. Johnny doesn’t believe much in love; he doesn’t want to give it that much power over him. He is sexy and handsome enough to capture the attention of women, particularly those who read his books and find them to be romantic but he himself doesn’t think romance is real.

Then he meets Mercy Bennett (Glenn) at a party celebrating his latest book and the two hit it off. It isn’t until afterwards that he discovers that she is a book reviewer and she’s written a particularly scathing review of his latest review. Far from being upset, he’s fascinated and curious and arranges to meet her to discuss the book and why she hated it so. It turns out she thinks he lacks depth, which I can certainly agree with.

The two wind up developing a relationship that grows and matures until they are very much in love. Suddenly Mr. Doesn’t Believe in Love is a believer. Still, life has a way of throwing us curveballs, some quite wicked and one is thrown at Johnny, one that will cause him to doubt even the most basic preconceptions he’s ever had and turn to the most unlikely place for answers – his father Gerry (James Caan), who initially forged Johnny’s belief that romance is a myth.

The movie is smartly written by Scott Caan, extremely literate in its conventions. I liked the conceit of naming the two parts of the movie “Before” and “After,” which lead you to a central event which shapes the movie (one which shouldn’t be disclosed here in order to preserve the element of surprise it brings). Caan also stretches his wings a little bit as an actor; the roles he is usually assigned are as second bananas, so it’s nice to see him take a lead role for a change. His scenes with his father in the second half of the movie are the best in the movie. Glenn also does a good job in the thankless role that could easily have been relegated to plot contrivance; instead, she fleshes it out and gives the part a little bit of bite that helps flavor the film a bit.

However, most of the other roles – including the usually reliable McDermott as Johnny’s agent – are undefined and somewhat bland. Even if Caan does a fine job acting, he is let down by his writer who crafts a character whose parts don’t end up adding up to the sum the movie wishes you to arrive at. That leaves you with a vaguely unsettled feeling, as if you’re being asked “what’s wrong with this picture” and you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Mercy explores the nature of love as redemption to a very large extent (although that’s not the only thing the movie is about, that seems to be its primary mission so to speak) and that’s a tall order for any film. The movie asks us to take a lot on faith – why a confirmed bachelor would suddenly change his outlook almost 180 degrees for someone who thinks him (and correctly so) shallow is a bit of a stretch for me. Still, the movies main sin of reaching for lofty heights is a forgivable one, and while this isn’t enough for me to rave over, there’s enough going on here to make the movie at least an interesting viewing.

WHY RENT THIS: Scott Caan does an exceptional job and his scenes with his father are well done.  The filmmakers capture the L.A. literary scene nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is a bit pedestrian and the characters don’t really grab the attention as well as they might.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is salty at times.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second time that James and Scott Caan have appeared in a movie together (the first was A Boy Called Hate in 1995) and in both they have played father and son, which they are in real life.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6,780 on an unreported production budget; the movie was a flop in its theatrical release.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Dukes