Pop Aye


Never get between a man and his elephant.

(2017) Drama (Kino Lorber) Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Bong, Chaiwat Khumdee, Naronng Pongpab, Yukontorn Sukkijja. Directed by Kirsten Tan

Sometimes we get feelings in our lives that threaten to overwhelm us, feelings we just can’t ignore. They become the elephant in the room, that feeling like we don’t fit in any longer or never fit in, that life has somehow managed to pass us by. Sometimes it takes a desperate action to get our lives back in order.

Thana (Warakulnukroh) is an architect who no longer feels at home in the firm he helped put on the map. Once a brilliant, bright shining future, he designed Gardenia Square, a shopping center which is now slated for demolition a mere twenty years after it was built. The son of his former boss now runs things and has replaced most of the architects with younger men who look at Thana as something of a dinosaur whose only use is to provide files.

Things are bad at home as well. His wife Bo (Sirikul) no longer seems attracted to Thana – and to be fair, his attempts at seduction are mostly awkward. Bo lives to shop and while her husband was a well-respected architect, there were plenty of things to buy. These days she knows she’s married to a man widely regarded as a fool and their marriage is a shell that isn’t going to last much longer. She seems shallow when we first meat her but as the movie goes on we see that there are heretofore hidden depths that explain her actions somewhat.

One day in the streets of Bangkok Thana spies an elephant (Bong) who he believes to be the elephant that he once had as a boy in the village of Loei, some 300 miles northeast of Bangkok. Nicknamed Popeye after a favorite cartoon of his as a youth (he trained the elephant to do the “toot toot” at the end of the “I’m Popeye the sailor man” theme), the elephant is mostly a means of making a quick buck for the mahout that owns him. Wanting more for his beloved elephant, Thana buys him on the spot and tries to bring him home but Bo is not having it.

Instead, Thana who has grown tired and disillusioned with city life decides to return to Loei where Thana’s Uncle Peak (Pongpab) will care for the creature. He and Popeye begin a journey from the bustling city of Bangkok into rural Thailand where they will meet a bevy of eccentric characters, including a transgender woman named Jenny (Sukkijja) who Thana treats with some compassion and who eventually gets a chance to return the favor, Dee (Khumdee), a gregarious homeless man living in an abandoned gas station who knows that his days are numbered but only regrets having left the love of his life whom he wishes to connect with one last time and a pair of officious police officers who are trying to move Thana and Popeye to the police station for “violating urban tidiness” even though the cops encounter the two on a road in the middle of nowhere.

All of these encounters serve to help Thana grow into a different man, one at peace with the disappointments of his life. While it may be true, as Thomas Hardy once put it, that you can never go home again, Thana finds out the secret to life; home is where you are at.

Tan was born in Singapore and has lived in a variety of places including Thailand where she worked as a t-shirt vendor on the streets of Bangkok. Now based in New York after attending the Tisch School of Visual Arts, she has made several impressive shorts. This is her feature-length film debut and it is a strong one. The movie has a gentle kind of surrealism to it that makes of unusual situations a kind of normality that makes them more palatable to the viewer. There is a sense of humor throughout but it is a gentle one, more of a chuckle than a guffaw at the ridiculousness of life.

The cast is mainly unprofessional but they do a fair enough job in conveying the various eccentricities of the various characters involved.  Warakulnukroh, a former progressive rock musician, manages to convey the puzzlement of Thana as he moves through a life that has left him behind. I don’t get the sense that he’s trying to adjust very much; he seems to be fairly bothered by the situation but doesn’t seem too motivated to change things until Popeye shows up. Khumdee also has some quiet moments that are compelling in his all-too-brief appearance here.

Most important here is the elephant and he is more expressive than a lot of human actors I’ve seen. I’ve never had the privilege of looking directly into the eyes of an elephant but there is a wisdom and sadness locked in those pachyderm eyes, an emotion that conveys empathy for the plight of Thana and by extension, himself. In many ways, Popeye is our avatar, marching slowly and resolutely towards an end that is pre-ordained but not necessarily without surprise. It is indeed the journey and not the destination since we’re all headed the same way anyway.

The movie is pretty slow-paced and might have benefited from some shorter more concise scenes particularly in the middle third. Keep in mind that an elephant never gets anywhere from anywhere else quickly so your best bet is to sit back and just enjoy the ride and that’s really good advice for watching any movie like Pop Aye. Allow it to wash over you and immerse you in its gently skewed universe. The ending is a little unexpected which is most appreciated, and you never really know what’s around the next bend in the road. All good journeys are like that.

REASONS TO GO: The film has a low-key sense of humor. The elephant is a keeper.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a touch too long and may be too slow-paced for some viewers. Some characters just fade from the movie without explanation.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual situations as well as brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tan won the screenwriting award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, becoming the first filmmaker from Singapore to win an award at the prestigious event.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Walkabout
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: I Don’t Feel at Home In this World Anymore

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)


Working on the railroad all the live-long day.

Working on the railroad all the live-long day.

(2013) Comedy (Music Box) Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skaringer, Jens Hulten, Bianca Cruzeiro, Alan Ford, Sven Lonn, David Shackleton, Georg Nikoloff, Simon Sappenen, Manuel Dubra, Cory Peterson, Kerry Shale, Philip Rosch, Keith Chanter, Patrik Karlson, Johan Rheborg, David Hogberg, Alfred Svensson, Eiffel Mattsson. Directed by Felix Herngren

Florida Film Festival 2015

Our lives have a certain texture and richness that we don’t really detect while we’re living it. Some of us labor in obscurity, affecting only those we’re close to and loved by. Others are destined not necessarily for greatness, but for greater effect.

Alan Karlsson (Gustafsson) is one such man. From the time he was a boy, he loved to blow things up, a gift from his father who was a bit of a revolutionary and died espousing contraceptives as the means to a better society. Alan’s penchant for explosives would eventually get him put into a mental hospital and later in life, into a retirement home.

It is in the latter place that one day – on his 100th birthday as a matter of fact – he just decides to step out of his window and leave. Nobody sees him go, and Alan manages to make it to the bus station and has just enough money on him to purchase a ticket to the middle of nowhere. While he’s waiting for the bus to come, a pushy biker sort (Sappenen) insists that Alan watch his suitcase while he’s in the bathroom. When Alan’s bus arrives, he absent-mindedly takes the suitcase with him. What Alan doesn’t know is that there is 50 million kroner inside the suitcase.

The bus lets him off in a one-horse Swedish town where the train no longer runs. Julius (Wiklander) watches over the train station and graciously takes Alan in for lunch and drinks, the latter of which Alan is more enthusiastic about. Their little party is broken up by the arrival of the pushy biker who wants his suitcase back in the worst way but the two old men manage to subdue him and lock him in a freezer.

Taking to the road, Julius and Alan meet up with Benny (Wiberg), a perpetual college student who has no degree yet despite having taken 920 credits in classes over 18 years but can’t make up his mind what he wants to do with his life, and later on with Gunilla (Skaringer), a lovely young Bohemian who is keeping a purloined elephant in her barn. Chasing them is Gaddan (Hulten), the leader of the biker gang whose pushy member had unwittingly given the suitcase to Alan, and Pim (Ford), the English drug lord whose cash it is.

In the meantime, Alan reminisces about his remarkable life which took him to the Spanish Civil War (where he saved General Francisco Franco’s life), the Manhattan Project (where his suggestion helped J. Robert Oppenheimer solve a critical problem with the atomic bomb and led to him having a tequila drinking session with then-Vice President Harry Truman), the Soviet Union (where he would eventually be imprisoned with Albert Einstein’s slow-witted brother) and the C.I.A. (where he would be a double agent passing useless information between both sides).

In that sense, this is a bit of a Forrest Gump-like film in which Alan drifts through history, and the parallels are a bit striking. While not quite as slow as Gump, Alan is certainly not the brightest bulb in the chandelier and kind of allows life to take him where it will, avoiding disaster often by the slimmest of margins.

This is based on a massively popular novel that is available here in the States. The movie version was a huge hit in Sweden where it recently became the biggest box office success of any Swedish-made movie in history. The distributor is the same group that brought the Millennium trilogy to American shores and is hoping for a similar type of success. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep those unfamiliar with the book guessing as to where the plot is going.

Certainly that sort of success would be merited here. I found it funny in a less over-the-top way than American comedies are these days. Comedies coming from America seem to be hell-bent on pushing the envelope of good taste and excess (which isn’t of itself a bad thing); this is more content to use absurd situations and serendipity to get its humor across. This is definitely more old school and those who prefer the comedies fast-paced and frenetic will likely find this slow and frustrating.

Gustafsson is one of Sweden’s most popular comic actors and we get a good sense why; his comic timing is impeccable and his mannerisms as the 100-year-old Alan are pitch-perfect. He gets able support from Wiberg who plays perhaps the most indecisive man ever, Hulten as the crazed biker and Ford as the apoplectic drug lord (Ford played a similar role in Guy Richie’s Snatch). Throughout Herngren hits the right notes and allows the comedy to happen organically rather than force things.

There are a few quibbles – the narration is a bit intrusive and there are some factual errors (for example, President Roosevelt actually died three months before the Trinity atomic test, not after) but for the most part the movie is pleasant and funny, though not life-changing. It’s the perfect tonic for a bad day and if you need further praise than that, you just must not have many bad days.

REASONS TO GO: Oddball sense of humor. Forrest Gump in Europe. Absurdly funny.
REASONS TO STAY: Narration is a bit intrusive.
FAMILY VALUES: Some crude humor, a little violence and some bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gustafsson estimated that if all the time he spent in the make-up chair was tallied, he would have been there three uninterrupted weeks 24/7 in the chair when all was said and done.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cocoon
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Danny Collins

Due Date


Due Date

Apparently these guys got no further than "speak no evil."

(2010) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliet Lewis, RZA, Danny McBride, Matt Walsh, Brody Stevens, Marco Rodriguez, Paul Renteria, Mimi Kennedy, Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer. Directed by Todd Phillips

The best part of any trip is coming home. There comes a point when the weary traveler just wants to get back to their own bed, by any means necessary. Sometimes fate intervenes in this worthy endeavor however.

Peter Highman (Downey) has more reason than most to want to get back. His wife Sarah (Monaghan) is due to give birth and a date has been set to give her a Caesarian. He is leaving Atlanta in plenty of time…until he meets Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis).

Actually he pretty much literally runs into him, Ethan does and in the confusion, Ethan and Peter pick up each other’s similar-looking bags. It turns out that Ethan is sitting behind Peter in first class. It turns out Ethan gets Peter shot by an Air Marshal. Both men are tossed off the plane, with Peter leaving his wallet on board. Worse, he’s on a no-fly list now because of the incident.

Without a wallet, Peter has no way of renting a car but Ethan does and reluctantly Peter agrees to accompany Ethan on his way to Los Angeles; Ethan is an aspiring actor, bringing along with him on his journey his dog and his father’s ashes in a coffee can. Does that man know how to travel or what?

Of course, the eccentric Ethan gets the uptight Peter into all sorts of trouble, from getting them into an accident when he falls asleep at the wheel to abandoning Peter to get arrested for possession of marijuana at a border crossing. With the clock ticking and Sarah’s due date nearing, can Peter and Ethan manage to make it across the country in time or will Peter miss the birth of his first child?

If you thought “Wasn’t there a movie a lot like that?” you’d probably agree with the critics who dissed this movie for being too similar to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 John Hughes film with Steve Martin and John Candy in a more or less similar plot. They aren’t exactly alike and there are no trains in this movie but the spirit is pretty much the same.

Peter is ramrod straight here and that’s supposed to be the joke, but that becomes a double edged sword because the movie then isn’t able to make use of Downey’s comic skills which are considerable. He becomes a glorified straight man to Galifianakis’ antics and quite frankly, the movie would have been better served to allow Peter to be not quite so uptight.

Galifianakis is one of the most popular comic actors today but this seems to be more or less a parody of his role in the two Hangover movies. He was far better in those, as well as his more serious role in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Here, he is eccentric for its own sake. The real trick to making a role of this sort funny is that it kind of has to be believable. There’s nothing believable about Ethan. He does things no rational human being would ever do. And as for Peter, there’s no way anybody sticks around Ethan after he causes Peter multiple injuries.

There are some good gags here and a enough laughs that I can at least promise a certain amount of entertainment if you choose to rent this. However, while it did good box office, it isn’t really the kind of movie you’re going to remember with a great deal of fondness, nor is it one you’re going to want to watch over and over again. It’s just diversion enough to make you smile and maybe laugh a little bit for an hour and a half, which is a pretty noble result in and of itself.

WHY RENT THIS: There are enough funny moments to make this worth your while.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There are not enough funny moments to make this a classic.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language, a teensy bit of drug use and some comic violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alan Arkin filmed some scenes as Peter’s father but these were left on the cutting room floor.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and the full scene shown at the end of the movie of “Two and a Half Men.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $211.8M on a $65M production budget; the movie was a genuine hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Paul


Paul

Paul still hasn't gotten the concept of the Finger perfected just yet.

(2011) Sci-Fi Comedy (Universal) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons. Directed by Greg Mottola

There is a truism about being careful what you wish for. This is particularly true if you’re a science fiction geek on a road trip to America and are driving past Area 51.

That’s what British sci-fi geeks Graeme Willie (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are doing. They start off at San Diego’s legendary Comic Con (and for those who haven’t been there, it is heaven on earth for the fanboy contingent, a bucket list kind of event) where they meet noted sci-fi author and cult figure Adam Shadowchild (Tambor) who pooh-poohs Clive’s aspirations of being a writer and Graeme’s abilities as an artist. Then it’s into a rented RV and off to see America!

A not-particularly-comfortable encounter with a couple of rednecks (Koechner, Plemons) and a kindly diner waitress (J. Lynch) sends the Brits at warp speed down the Alien Highway where they are overtaken by a sedan which crashes in front of their eyes. When they investigate the wreck to make sure the driver’s okay, they discover to their shock that the driver is an illegal alien – and I’m not talking the sort that George Lopez jokes about. No, this is a little green man, who goes by the name of Paul (Rogen), named after the dog who he landed on with his spacecraft in the opening of the film. Clive promptly faints.

Paul begs Graeme for help, knowing he is being chased by one of those mysterious government agents – Agent Zoil (Bateman) to be exact. Paul needs to get to a particular location so that he can meet up with a rescue ship that will take him home. Graeme being a kindly sort agrees.

What ensues is a road trip odyssey that takes the boys to an American backwater of UFO myth and legend, running into ambitious but ignorant agents (Hader, Lo Truglio), a shoot first, ask questions later Bible-carryin’ shotgun-totin’ Fundamentalist (J.C. Lynch) and his naïve but misguided daughter (Wiig) whose belief system is thrown into disarray by the presence of Paul. When she realizes that all her previously held notions is wrong, she starts cursing up a storm and gets right to drinking, drugging and fornicating. My kind of girl.

Mottola has previously directed comedy gems Superbad and Adventureland. This continues his winning streak, giving us a comedy that is solidly funny throughout, dropping in-jokes about science fiction films and fandom in general like mustard on a hot dog. While some of those insider asides are subtle enough to keep fanboys smug and arrogant, the majority are obvious enough that any moviegoer who has seen at least a few sci-fi movies will get the majority of them.

Pegg and Frost, who established their reputation in such films as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, are perhaps the best comic duo working today. Their easy rapport helps give Paul its heart and charm, making the two sci-fi geekoids believable without poking fun at the species with undue cruelty which fanboy films often do.

There are loads of cameos and terrific supporting actors here, including Bergen as the grown up version of a girl whose life is forever altered by the crash landing of a space vehicle, and Weaver as the brass-balled head of a mysterious covert government agency. Both Lynches  – Jane and John Carroll – inhabit their roles nicely, with Jane moving a little outside her normal persona as a heart of gold diner waitress with a soft spot for geeks, and John Carroll, nearly unrecognizable as the hellbent pursuer of the geeks who kidnapped his daughter.

As said daughter, Wiig has a role that could easily have been played over-the-top and for parody (and in the hands of a lesser actress – and director – probably would have) but instead, she delivers a subtle and nuanced performance as a woman whose universe is completely shaken up; if she’s a little batty at first it’s completely understandable and so she becomes a sympathetic figure rather than a ridiculous one.

Rogen has gotten some heat from critics for his performance as Paul, which is essentially a motion capture alien who sounds like Seth Rogen. Rogen’s shtick is a little jarring at times, but in defense of the guy you have to remember that Paul has been stuck on this planet for more than 40 years, plenty of time to acclimatize. I thought Rogen gave the movie plenty of character and while whether he has been over-exposed is a matter of opinion, I think he does a fine job here.

Fanboys are going to love the movie a lot more than the average moviegoer and quite frankly, Pegg and Frost have yet to produce much more than a cult following here in the States, nor is Paul likely to generate one. Still, there’s enough here to make it worth your while to check out, particularly if you have a great deal of love for science fiction and its mad, devoted followers. Sci-fi geeks, this is your movie and these are your people!

REASONS TO GO: Laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Lots of sci-fi nerd in-jokes. Pegg and Frost one of the premiere comedy teams working today.

REASONS TO STAY: Hit and miss on some of the humor. May be too fanboy-centric to appeal to a wider audience.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is plenty foul, particularly in Ruth’s case. There is also some drug use and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: John Carroll Lynch who plays Moses Buggs is only ten years older than Kirsten Wiig, who plays his daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: I think the movie theater experience is indicated here.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Babel

The Open Road


The Open Road

Jeff Bridges wondering when his flight leaves.

(Anchor Bay) Jeff Bridges, Justin Timberlake, Kate Mara, Mary Steenburgen, Harry Dean Stanton, Lyle Lovett, Ted Danson, Bret Saberhagen. Directed by Michael Meredith

The gulf between fathers and sons can be wider than the Gulf of Mexico and many times deeper. We can reach out to one another but in the end, sometimes there are no bridging gaps when all you have to work with is smoke and mirrors.

Carlton Garrett (Timberlake) is a minor league baseball player for the Corpus Christi Hooks. He’s fairly talented but of late he has been in a tremendous slump and his hopes for a major league career are fading by the minute.

Carlton has a lot more on his shoulders than the average minor league ballplayer though. His father is the great Kyle Garrett (Bridges), Hall of Famer for the Houston Astros, who not so coincidentally own Carlton’s contract. However, Carlton hasn’t spoken to his father in eons. Dad loves to tell stories of the good old days, especially when he’s drinking which is most of the time. While Kyle was hitting homers and getting plastered in anonymous bars all over the National League, Carlton was learning what it was like to grow up without a dad.

Carlton’s mom Katherine (Steenburgen) is also very sick and her condition is getting worse. She desperately needs surgery to fix her heart, but she is hedging a little bit. The surgery is extremely dangerous and she doesn’t want to go under the knife without seeing Carlton’s dad. Carlton is extremely reluctant to do it but he knows his mom might die if he doesn’t. He enlists the support of on-again off-again girlfriend Lucy (Mara) to come with him.

So Carlton tracks down his father at a baseball memorabilia show in Cincinnati and at first jovial dad is all for flying down to Houston, but the flight winds up being canceled and so determined to get his reluctant dad down to Houston as soon as humanly possible, Carlton rents a red SUV and proceeds to drive down there.

Along the way many unresolved grievances will be aired, not just between Carlton and Kyle but also between Carlton and Lucy. However, Carlton’s frustration is going as Kyle does everything he can – in a sort of passive-aggressive manner – to sabotage Carlton’s efforts to get him to Cincinnati. Kyle, you see, has issues of his own.

This is a movie that takes it’s time getting to where it’s going. One wag said after seeing it that he could have driven to Houston from there in the time the movie took to get to Memphis. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but I can understand the sentiment. In that sense, it’s almost a European film only in an all-American framework. The issues, however, are universal – America doesn’t own a monopoly on dysfunctional father-son relationships.

Meredith put together a pretty terrific cast which largely doesn’t have a whole lot to do. Bridges, who filmed this before his Oscar win for Crazy Heart, is terrific as he usually is in the role of the charming but ultimately shallow Kyle. This is the kind of role he could easily do in his sleep but he chooses not to, giving the role his full attention and that just about single-handedly elevates the movie above mediocre.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have any support. Steenburgen is endearing as always and Danson, Stanton and Lovett have too-brief cameos. Timberlake isn’t a bad actor, but he is nowhere near the level of Bridges and it shows. Mara is a gamer in her own right, but once again she is overwhelmed by Bridges’ performance.

This isn’t a rotten movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it takes a good deal of focus to stay with. Once the actual road trip begins things pick up a little bit but ultimately this is a movie about three people in a car for whom awkward silences are a bit of a blessing.

WHY RENT THIS: Bridges is delightful as always. Supporting cast does solid work, although frankly not up to the level of their best performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: So low-key that it’s almost sleepwalking.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language but probably no worse than you’ll hear in the average high school lunchroom…or even middle school gymnasium.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Michael Meredith, the son of former Dallas Cowboys great and Monday Night Football color commentator Dandy Don Meredith, is a frequent collaborator of the German director Wim Wenders.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The U.S. vs. John Lennon

The Lucky Ones


The Lucky Ones

Michael Pena, Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins be all that they can be.

(Roadside Attractions) Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, Michael Pena, John Heard, Molly Hagan, Mark L. Young, Howard Platt, Arden Myrin, Coburn Goss. Directed by Neil Burger

Many soldiers are called to serve their country in situations where they may be called into harm’s way. Some of them do not return, making the ultimate sacrifice. We think of the ones that return as being the lucky ones.

Three soldiers are on their way home to the United States from a German military hospital, all three having been injured in Iraq (two in combat situations, one in a situation he’d rather not talk about). Colee (McAdams) is on leave after a leg injury has left her with a limp; she hopes to return the guitar of a comrade to his family in Las Vegas. Cheaver (Robbins) is career army who is finally calling it quits; he suffered a back injury but is eager to reunite with his wife and son in St. Louis. TK (Pena) was the victim of a groin injury during a roadside bombing; also on leave, he wants to stop in Las Vegas to see if his equipment is still working before seeing his girlfriend in California.

All three land in New York City but a blackout has grounded every single flight at least until the next day and chances are that the wait in the airport will be even longer as the airlines scramble to get everyone where they need to be. Cheaver determines to rent a car and drive to St. Louis; Colee and TK overhear his plan and offer to go in with him; they figure they can grab a flight in St. Louis and get to Las Vegas from there.

Of course things immediately start to go wrong, from keys being locked in the car to accidents to breakdowns. They run into every conceivable eccentric from here to St. Louis and beyond. They also find that the return home is nothing like what they expected it to be.

The movie came out amid a raft of Iraq War-themed films that all, without exception, tanked at the box office regardless of how good the movies were, who was in them and what the theme was. The American movie-going public sent a very clear message to Hollywood: no films about the war please. That’s a bit of a shame, as some really decent movies, such as In the Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker and Stop-Loss got left by the wayside.

This modestly-budgeted film also suffered a similar fate, despite the filmmakers and cast’s declaration that this movie most definitely wasn’t about the war, and quite frankly I can see their point. However, in the same way, this isn’t a road movie either and while the war theme hangs heavily over the film (the opening sequence is the only scene set in the war), this ultimately becomes more of a three-way buddy flick.

In fact, it is the bond between the three soldiers that makes the heart of this movie beat strongly, and fortunately for us, Robbins, Pena and McAdams are all fine actors. McAdams in particular does a wonderful job as a perky, terminally optimistic Southern gal whose sweet smile hides a great deal of inner pain. McAdams is a very big reason why the movie’s charm got under my skin.

Pena is a fine actor (see World Trade Center and Crash) who hasn’t really gotten the attention he deserves and consequently doesn’t get the roles he deserves to play either. In that sense, he’s a lot like Adam Beach – someone who gives terrific performances every time out and yet hasn’t gotten the role that will really establish his career. Pena does a great job as usual but I think he’ll have to keep on looking for that elusive career-establishing part.

Robbins is the father figure and emotional center of the movie. He wisely underplays the role, making Cheaver a quiet leader rather than a rah-rah sort. When he breaks down emotionally, it comes without warning and gives the moment greater impact.

While I opine that this isn’t truly a road movie, it certainly is set up to be one, with all the stock characters (the oversexed housewife, redneck truckers, country club blowhard etc.) show up one by one, and the stock situations I mentioned earlier happen right on cue. The filmmakers try to throw a curveball with a tornado, but the effects are a bit weak and you wind up wondering “Why the hell did they do that?” after it’s gone.

Needless to say, this is a flawed movie whose heart is in the right place. The relationship between the three soldiers, as well as their background stories, compels us from the very beginning to get involved in the movie. That’s what casting the right actors for the right parts will do for you. Hopefully, film audiences will get over their distaste for movies set in the Iraqi war milieu soon enough that people will catch this movie on DVD; it’s not Oscar material by a long stretch, but it is deserving of an audience, one that it didn’t get during its theatrical run.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific performances by the three leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the situations are terribly cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language and a little bit of sexual content but it is the subject matter that makes this more for mature audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This movie is the third occasion that Tim Robbins has played a member of the military; the other two films were Top Gun and Jacob’s Ladder.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Hurt Locker

Away We Go


Away We Go

A young couple face an uncertain future armed only with their love for each other.

(Focus) John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Chris Messina, Catherine O’Hara, Jim Gaffigan, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Schneider. Directed by Sam Mendes

At some point in all of our lives we are forced to grow up. Usually some sort of life-changing event is the catalyst – a new job, financial difficulties or impending marriage/parenthood. Whatever the cause, we are required to put aside the irresponsibilities of our youth and get serious about our future.

Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are very much in love. They are pleasant, smart people, both with jobs that enable them to work at home wherever that home may be. They live in a ramshackle house that is probably well beneath what they can afford. However, Verona is expecting their first child and that changes everything.

Further complicating things are Burt’s parents Gloria (O’Hara) and Jerry (Daniels) who they were hoping would help with the child-rearing thing. Rather than assisting with their grandchild, Gloria and Jerry are more eager to move to Antwerp. This leads Burt and Verona to the revelation that they are completely free to live anywhere now, but with that freedom comes choice – where to live?

This leads them on a road trip to visit various relatives and friends to examine the relative merits of various locations as places to raise their impending family. First is Arizona, where Verona’s ex-boss Lily (Janney) lives with her husband Lowell (Gaffigan). Lily is a foul-mouthed, borderline alcoholic who actually does her best to convince Verona not to move to Arizona. It’s probably a good thing, too, considering all the dumbass legislation that has been coming out of there lately.

Next on the list is Madison, Wisconsin where lives a childhood friend of Burt’s, LN (Gyllenhaal), who teaches radical feminist bullshit (as far as I can make out) and has adopted a goofy New Age mantra that makes her a loonie of the first order. I’d say she’s a caricature but I’ve met a few sorts who aren’t far off from the views she espouses so we’ll leave it at wacko.

It’s on to Montreal where college chums of the both of them Tom (Messina) and Munch (Lynskey) seem to be living ideal lives and at first it’s very appealing to Burt and Verona but soon the desperate unhappiness simmering beneath the surface for their friends comes boiling through.

Next is Miami where Burt’s brother (Schneider) is struggling with a wife who left him to raise their children alone. This is one of the more poignant of the vignettes, but the experience leaves Burt and Verona a little shaken. After all this, Burt and Verona are faced with their decision, but what are they going to choose?

Director Mendes made this hot on the heels of his last movie, Revolutionary Road which was a totally different animal. Mendes is known for his condemnation of the suburban lifestyle, which he has explored in movies like the aforementioned Revolutionary Road and American Beauty but this is a bit gentler and a bit more quirky than his previous movies.

Krasinski and Rudolph, both TV veterans (from “The Office” and SNL respectively) do very well on the big screen. Their relationship is totally believable and the viewer is left with no doubt that these are two people who love each other very deeply. Yes, they have a certain amount of indie film arrogance about them, but Burt and Verona are genuinely nice people who are a little bit more educated than most and a little bit kinder than most. If that makes them smug and superior to some, well I suppose they have reason to be.

The various location vignettes work with varying degrees. Janney and Gaffigan are a bit out of whack with the overall tone of the film and it is a bit jarring. The Miami and Montreal vignettes are the best, ruthlessly honest and brutally frank.

The script is well-written by novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida who are romantically involved themselves. One gets the impression there’s an awful lot of the two of them in Burt and Verona (even the names are similar), so that may be why the film rings so true. Authenticity is a commodity that serves movies like this very well, and there’s an abundance of it here.

The truth of the matter is that there is always someplace better, but if you want the perfect place, it is almost inevitably the place where you’re at – wherever the one you love is, there is the perfect place to raise a family. Those who complain that there are no good romantic comedies anymore would do well to check out Away We Go – it blows all those formula movies right out of the water.

WHY RENT THIS: The chemistry between Krasinski and Rudolph is more than believable, and they both deliver fine performances. Supporting cast does very well.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes a bit too low-key for its own good; the one vignette that is louder is jarring to the film’s overall tone.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of sexuality, as well as some foul language. For my taste, some of the humor is adult but mature teens will be able to enjoy this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Toni Collette was originally cast in the Maggie Gyllenhaal role but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a feature on how the filmmakers tried to make the production eco-friendly with the help of a group called Earthmark.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: State of Play