Here Comes the Boom


Neither Salma Hayek nor Kevin James have read the reviews yet.

Neither Salma Hayek nor Kevin James have read the reviews yet.

(2012) Comedy (Columbia) Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler, Gregg Germann, Joe Rogan, Gary Valentine, Chance, Bas Rutten, Reggie Lee, Mark DellaGrotte, Mookie Barker, Jackie Flynn, Nikki Tyler-Flynn, Melissa Peterman, Thomas Gallagher, Blaine Stevens, Jonathan Michael Trautmann, Germaine De Leon, Steven Ritchie, Shelly Desai, Earnestine Philips. Directed by Frank Coraci

In an era where education cuts are commonplace, schools more and more have had to find creative ways to fund their various programs that are no longer getting support from their local school districts. It can be a challenge for public schools to keep things like art and music on the curriculum when funding often requires school boards to choose between math and science and the arts.

Scott Voss (James) is a biology teacher just going through the motions at Wilkinson High, a school where falling revenues have led to all sorts of budget cuts. The latest round is jeopardizing the music program and the job of Marty Streb (Winkler), Scott’s friend. Scott feels bad and wants to do something, but is unsure of how to raise the revenue that would pay Marty’s salary and save the program.

Scott also teaches a U.S. citizenship course in the evenings to help make ends meet and one of his students (Rutten), a former MMA fighter, gives Scott – a former NCAA champion wrestler – the idea to do some MMA fights and use the losing purse money to help pay for Marty’s salary. At first the idea is pooh-poohed but Scott feels very strongly about this and begins training with his student to get stronger. In the meantime, he is romancing Bella Flores (Hayek), the school nurse – and if my school nurse had looked like that, I’d have been sick a lot more often, who is for the most part disinterested but now that Scott has come alive both as a fighter but also in the classroom as well, is beginning to regard him in a new light.

The students begin cheering for Scott, inspired by his dedication and newfound passion. However, making the approximately $50K needed to save the music program is no easy task and time is ticking down before the opportunity to save Marty’s job ticks away.

This is one of those sports comedies that is pretty much predictable from beginning to end. Movies like this depend on likable leads and they don’t come any more likable than Kevin James. He’s got a very blue collar, down-to-earth personality that is perfect for the small screen and doesn’t always translate well to the big one, but does in this case.

What doesn’t work is the plot which requires quite the suspension of disbelief; school officials don’t act like this and neither do MMA fighters. More worrisome is the lack of humor in the comedy. While there were some fairly funny bits (almost all of them in the trailer), for the most part the movie just plugs along getting by on its charm and the obvious charisma of Hayek and James.

The MMA sequences are realistic enough, given that James is in no way shape or form an MMA athlete, but he acquits himself all right all things considered. Of course, if you’re watching this movie for realistic MMA sequences, chances are you’re in need of some form of therapy or another. Still, there are less pleasant ways to spend an hour and a half and less pleasant people to spend it with. If “pleasant” is an adjective for movies that doesn’t bother you, this might be just the thing for you.

WHY RENT THIS: Nothing here that is objectionable. James is pleasant and Hayek is gorgeous.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Really formulaic and a bit unrealistic. Needs a bit more funny stuff.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sports violence, a little rude humor and a bit of mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The car that James and his friends ride in is the same one James drove in the early seasons of King of Queens.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a gag reel, a featurette on the real-life fighters that appear in the film and a fascinating featurette on James’ training to become an MMA fighter.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $73.1M on a $42M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Flixster, Google Play, M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hitch
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Ride Along 2

Eat Drink Man Woman (Yin shi nan nu)


In China, the dinner table is a wonderful, terrible place.

In China, the dinner table is a wonderful, terrible place.

(1994) Dramedy (Goldwyn) Sihung Lung, Yu-Wen Wang, Chien-Lien Wu, Kuei-Mei Yang, Sylvia Chang, Winston Chao, Chao-jung Chen, Chit-Man Chan, Yu Chen, Ya-Lei Kuei, Chi-Der Hong, Gin-Ming Hsu, Huei-Yi Lin, Shih-Jay Lin, Chin-Cheng Lu, Cho-Gin Nei, Yu-Chien Tang, Chung Ting, Cheng-Fen Tso, Man-Sheng Tu, Chuen Wang, Shui Wang, Hwa Tu, Michael Taylor. Directed by Ang Lee

Films For Foodies

One of my favorite cuisines is Chinese. Done well (which is sadly rare where I live) it is flavorful, fresh and filling. Cuisine is in many ways a reflection of the philosophy of life of the originating culture. China is simple on the surface but very complex the further you delve into it. The same can be said about families, not just in China but in all cultures.

Chu (Lung) is an old school chef, once one of the most honored in Taipei. He is semi-retired now, living with his three adult unmarried daughters. His wife passed away some years back and he is lonely even in a house full of girls. They have modern sensibilities which puzzle him. There was a time when a father’s word was absolute but those days are gone.

Jia-Jen (Yang) is his eldest. Nine years previously, her heart was broken by a suitor who abandoned her. She eventually converted to Christianity with all the fervor of a convert which has caused some friction in the household. She works as a school nurse and has given up on love – until a volleyball coach (Hsu) begins to pay attention to her.

Jia-Chien (Wu) works for an airline as an executive and is fiercely independent, guarding that independence like a mama bear with a cub. She had once wanted nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps but in Chinese society women were not chefs – only at home did they ever cook. She sometimes meets up with Raymond (Chan), an old lover with privileges.

Jia-Ning (Y-W. Wang), the youngest, works at a fast-food joint and begins a relationship with Guo Lun (Chen) who has an on-again, off-again relationship with Jia-Ning’s fickle friend whose flightiness is beginning to wear on Guo Lun.

 

On Sundays, Chu prepares an extraordinary meal for all three of his daughters. At table, they share news of each other’s lives and sometimes drop announcements on the family of varying degrees of earth-shattering capability. Chu is being courted by Mrs. Liang (Kuei), the widowed mother of single mom Jin-Rong (Chang) who is almost like a fourth daughter. Mrs. Liang is always accompanied by a billowing cloud of cigarette smoke which brings out the Dragon Lady stereotypes but makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the fragrant clouds of steam that rise from Chu’s gastronomic creations.

There are elements of farce here, as well as soap opera qualities. Each daughter represents a different daughterly virtue in Chinese culture, and each one has her own secret. Chu is not especially pleased with retirement; it doesn’t take much convincing to send him scurrying to his old restaurant to assist Uncle Wen (Wang), an old family friend – and yet he seems to take much more satisfaction from the meals he prepares for his girls, even though they don’t seem to appreciate it much.

Lee spends a great deal of time focusing on the food and its preparation – the entire first scene is essentially a how-to on how Chu prepares one of his epic Sunday dinners. You will be craving Chinese food by the time the first scene is over; you’ll be needing it like a junkie needs heroin by the time the movie is complete. Food is important in Chinese culture and Lee gives it the kind of reverence and due that the French accord a great meal.

 

I like Lung’s performance very much; he sometimes comes off as clueless but one gets the sense that he knows a lot more than what those around him give him credit for (and in the movie’s climax he proves that point beyond a shadow of a doubt). His relationships with his daughters, Wen and Madame Liang are separate, different but all pursued with kindness and tenderness. This is a man who loves to feed people not just physically but in the soul as well.

His daughters are a different bunch, all of whom are stereotypes in a sense but still accorded personalities of their own. Like me, you are likely to form opinions of them based on your own particular point of view informed by your own experiences in life. I won’t judge here; the performances are all solid and you will love them or hate them as individuals but you will have an opinion. These are not the meek, submissive Asian women of a different age – even Jia-Jen who seems the meekest of the three has a core of iron.

Some will find the lives of the daughters a bit soap opera-esque and that may be a turn-off for those sorts. I can understand that; it’s a fair criticism. For my part, I didn’t really mind. When looked at as a cohesive whole, the entanglements of their lives are as dense and complex as the entanglements of our own. If we’re lucky.

Like any Chinese feast, this is meant to be savored slowly and enjoyed for a lifetime. I haven’t seen Lee’s preceding film The Wedding Banquet but it is said to be superior. One of these days I’ll have to check it out. In the meantime, I highly recommend this delectable morsel. If you love Chinese cooking, Chinese cinema, or family dramas – or any combination thereof – this is a meal that was meant just for you.

WHY RENT THIS: A lovely entwining of family and food. Funny in all the right places.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit hard to follow sometimes.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some bad language and adult situations as well as some sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The opening sequence, depicting the detailed preparation of a Sunday lunch, took more than a week to film.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an interview with director Lee and his long-time producer partner James Schamus newly recorded for the DVD version which arrived in 2002.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7.3M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tortilla Soup

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Films for Foodies concludes!

Map of the World


A Map of the World

Sigourney Weaver can't believe the box office numbers for this film.

(1999) Drama (Firstlook) Sigourney Weaver, David Strathairn, Julianne Moore, Chloe Sevigny, Arliss Howard, Louise Fletcher, Aunjanue Ellis, Sara Rue, Nicole Ari Parker, Ron Lea, Dara Perlmutter, Marc Donato. Directed by Scott Elliott.

We all live our lives in a kind of haze of normalcy. We take comfort in the little rituals of the everyday, ignoring the fear that it can all be taken away in a moment. Sometimes, day-to-day living is just so chaotic that we don’t even notice that we’re falling from grace until we hit bottom.

That’s essentially what happens to Alice Goodwin (Weaver). She’s a school nurse and her husband Walter (Strathairn) runs a farm in rural Wisconsin. They’re originally from the city and although the locals are friendly enough, most regard them with a certain amount of distrust. The exception are their best friends, Theresa (Moore) and Dan (Lea) Collins, whose children regularly play with the Goodwin children.

Where Alice’s home is a symphony of chaos and mess, Theresa’s home is orderly and well-kept. While Alice struggles to keep on top of things, Theresa always seems to find time to bake muffins and do crafts with her kids. Alice is envious, even to how well-behaved the Collins children are. Emma, the eldest (Perlmutter) Goodwin child, is an absolute harpy, shrill, selfish and mean. Alice gets little or no help from Walter in keeping the house kept and the kids minded, which frustrates her.

On the last day of school, Alice has a run-in with Carole McKessie (Sevigny), the irresponsible single mother of a high-strung boy (Donato) whom she repeatedly sends to school sick. Alice is weary of dealing with sick kids and irresponsible parents and makes wiseass comments to a fellow teacher.

When Theresa asks Alice to baby-sit while Dan and Theresa take a little romantic time for themselves, Alice is only too eager to oblige. After all, she has a pond on her property, farm animals and all sorts of things to keep bored kids busy. Things are going as normal – chaos on the brink of hysteria – when things take a nastier turn, as things often will. The resulting tragedy leaves Alice in a state of shock.

Her shock is about to multiply. A few weeks after the incident, Alice is arrested for sexually abusing the McKessie boy. The Goodwins, already on the edge of financial oblivion, cannot afford her bail so Alice is obliged to remain in jail while awaiting trial on the charges, which are beginning to pile up as other children come forward.

Alice, her world already reeling from shock, finds herself in a prison where she is harassed by Dyshette (Ellis), an inmate with plenty of attitude, a chip on her shoulder and anger management issues. Alice is slowly beginning to break down, sabotaging the efforts of her frustrated lawyer (Howard) to get her off the hook.

Meanwhile, Howard is struggling trying to keep home and hearth together. He is aided by Theresa, but an attraction is developing between them that neither one of them want. The map of the world which they’ve all drawn for themselves has grown vague; whether it can take them home or not is by no means certain.

Alice is a complex and not always lovable role for Weaver, who has made a career of playing strong role models. Her Alice certainly has some strength, but that is balanced by a lot of vulnerabilities. The resulting juxtaposition between the two characteristics makes Alice a compelling character, although not always likable. Her means of dealing with the grief of her situation borders on the self-centered, but certainly that’s understandable; her very core has been threatened and she has gone totally into self-preservation mode.

Strathairn is amazing as always in his role as Walter. He plays a man who is anything but strong, constantly leaning on his wife for everything. When he has to step up to the plate, he doesn’t always manage but he’s in there plugging away. When Theresa compliments him as being “a very good man,” she’s not just whistling Dixie. Anybody thinking of getting married on a lark should see what this man goes through before saying “I do.” Talk about “in good times and in bad.”

This is definitely a film meant for women. The standard of women as nurturers and caregivers for their family is seen here as the state of grace. When a woman falls from grace, she is no longer able to care and nurture her family, hence the fall. That Alice in some ways relishes the fall is what makes the movie real and compelling.   

This is one of those little films that kind of slipped under the radar when it was released. I saw it recommended on Netflix, and was curious, and was glad that I chose to satiate my curiosity. It’s well worth checking out, even if, through no fault of your own, you’re a guy.

WHY RENT THIS: An unflinching look at how things can spin out of control. Straithairn and Weaver are both terrific in their roles, and the cast is generally outstanding.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Weaver’s character is often unlikable, so much so that it takes some effort to relate to her.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of sex and a smattering of bad language, particularly in the prison scenes.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Weaver was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her role.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $544,965 on an unreported production budget; the movie probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Battle: Los Angeles