Diamantino


Attack of the fluffy puppies.

(2018) Comedy Fantasy (Kino Lorber) Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Magrida Moreira, Carla Maciel, Chico Chapas, Hugo Santos Silva, Joana Barrios, Felipe Vargas, Maria Leite, Manuela Moura Guedes, Djucu Dabo, Leandro Vieira, Vitor Alves daSilva, Abilio Bejinha, Vitor de Almeida, Elisabete Pendeira. Directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt

 

Most movies are fairly straightforward. Some, however, are a little bit on the weird side. Still others are just so out in left field that the best thing to do instead of thinking about it too much is to just go with it. Diamantino is one such film. How to describe it? IndieWire critic David Ehrlich described it as a “technicolor glitter bomb of a movie” and that’s as close to a perfect description as we mortals are likely to get.

Diamantino (Cotta) is the world’s best soccer player, leading his Portuguese team into the 2018 World Cup finals. He is a good-hearted, terminally naive but dumb as a rock man. His career is guided by his loving father (Chapas) but also in the picture are his amazingly venal twin sisters (A. Moreira and M. Moreira) who see their lunk of a brother as a never-ending meal ticket and from whom they embezzle cash at a terrifying rate. It has gotten to the point where the Portuguese authorities in the persons of Lucia (Leite) and Aisha (Tavares), a pair of federal agents who also happen to be lesbian lovers.

Diamantino owes his success to being able to eliminate distractions of the crowd and even the other players on the pitch by visualizing the stadium as a field of cotton candy in which giant Pekingese puppies the size of trucks cavort.  When he is fouled in the final seconds of the game and has a chance to tie it up after being awarded a penalty kick, the Portuguese announcers assume that they have the tie in the bag. Inexplicably, the visualization fails and Diamantino misses the kick by a country mile, going from national hero to international disgrace in the blink of an eye. The situation is so unthinkable that his dad has a fatal heart attack.

Stunned by the double blows, Diamantino decides to do something inspiring and adopt a refugee child. The agents recognize the opportunity and insert Aisha as “Rahim,” a young boy from Madagascar. Nobody in the household seems to notice that Rahim is an adult female. The sisters, now freed from the constraints of their father, decide to further exploit their brother by delivering him to Portuguese nationalists who want Portugal out of the EU and use Diamantino as the poster boy for that movement. In addition, a mad scientist (Maciel) working for the Portuguese government is allowed to conduct experiments in an attempt to clone Diamantino and extract the source of his genius which has something to do with combining clownfish DNA with his, consequently causing female breasts to grow above his magnificent pectorals – and it gets weird from there.

Fans of French absurdist Michel Gondry will likely be doing cartwheels in the theater at the sight of this feature for first-time feature directors Abrantes and Schmidt. There is a whimsical, almost fairy tale-like tone to the film that plays like one of those dreams that make no sense at all but make perfect sense while you’re asleep. I couldn’t help but suspect that there is an allegory going on here and there are certainly a lot of salient political points, addressing the refugee crisis, rampant European nationalism, genetic manipulation and the exploitation of sports stars.

Despite the political points this isn’t a political film and the filmmakers tend to address their subjects superficially. This is, after all, a comedy and one suspects that even the filmmakers don’t take the movie too seriously. It is a mishmash of genres, including espionage thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, satire, spoof and sports film. In other words, something for everybody – well, nearly everybody.

The effects are low-budget and look it but the cinematography is strong and the score is really nice, augmenting the mood well. Some are definitely going to find it too radically weird so those who find Monty Python too high-brow might want to give this a miss. For the rest, this is a remarkably entertaining, endearing and occasionally sweet morality play that ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to heart-tugging pathos. Any movie with giant puppies can’t be all bad.

For Florida readers, the film is currently playing only at the MDC Tower Theater on the campus of Miami Dade College so if you want to catch it in a theater, you’ll have to go there. Keep an eye out for it at your local arthouse; otherwise expect it to be available to stream later this year.

REASONS TO SEE: Extremely imaginative from the plot to the effects. A really nice score.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be too whimsical for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead character was loosely based on Christiano Ronaldo and the story inspired by a pair of essays by David Foster Wallace.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews: Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Science of Sleep
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Free Trip to Egypt

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The Witch


Anya Taylor-Joy contemplates a role that might just kickstart her career.

Anya Taylor-Joy contemplates a role that might just kickstart her career.

(2015) Horror (A24) Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Julian Richings, Wahab Chaudhry (voice), Sarah Stephens, Jeff Smith, Ron G. Young, Derek Herd, Brooklyn Herd, Viv Moore, Madlen Sopadzhiyan. Directed by Robert Eggers

I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to make an exception; if you haven’t seen The Witch and are wondering if you should, the answer is yes you should. Don’t read another word – just go and see the movie and come back here and read this when you do. The less you know about what’s going to happen to you, the better.

There; I’m assuming most of you reading from here on out have already seen it, have no desire to see it or are choosing to ignore my warning. That’s on you then. The Witch is set on a farm on the edge of a dark sinister wood in New England in the year of our lord 1630 – and I’m not kidding when I say the year of our lord. For farmer William (Ineson) and his pious wife Katherine (Dickie), the Lord is ever present and watching over their every move, their every thought. Banished from the settlement because of some unspecified disagreement in terms of religious dogma – I got the sense that William and his family thought the Puritans were far too loose and relaxed about the worship of God and baby Jesus – they are forced to try and make it on their own with a few goats including an ornery ebony-hued one they call Black Philip – and crops of corn and whatever else they can grow.

But the crops are failing. The goat’s milk has turned to blood and worse yet the baby has disappeared literally right from under the nose of teen and eldest child Thomasin (Taylor-Joy).  Katherine is inconsolable and William stoically makes the best of things, taking son Caleb (Scrimshaw) hunting in the woods, or ordering the twins Mercy (Grainger) and Jonas (Dawson) about. The twins speak to each other in a secret language only they understand and constantly annoy Thomasin, whom they won’t listen to. But then something else happens in the woods, something dark and sinister and the family begins to turn on itself, their faith tested to the breaking point. Here, on the edge of darkness, they will look into the abyss with trepidation.

I won’t say the horror film has been undergoing a renaissance in the last few years because clearly the overall quality of horror movies tends to be been there-done that to a large extreme, but there have been several movies that have come out that have really invigorated the genre. This is the latest, having won raves at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and only now getting released. It’s very much worth the wait, folks.

First-time feature director Eggers makes some impressive accomplishments, conjuring forth the world of the early colonial days and 17th century New England, from the English speech patterns down to the rude farming implements, the primitive living conditions and the homespun costumes. More importantly, he builds a creepy atmosphere that begins with unsettling events and moves into things far more sinister. The family dynamic changes as we watch with suspicion being dropped from one family member to another as accusations of witchcraft and deals with the devil begin to fly.

The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke is top-notch. In fact, this may very well be the most beautifully shot horror film in history, which is saying a lot. The unsettling musical score by Mark Korven further enhances the mood particularly as the movie spirals deeper into its story. He utilizes a lot of unusual instrumentation, from Eastern European folk instruments to the hurdy-gurdy.

The actors are largely unknown, but there are some solid performances here. Anya Taylor-Joy is remarkable here, with an innocence about her that cracks from time to time; her expression in the very final scene simply takes the movie up another notch. Ineson is gruff and gritty as a farmer who knows he is incompetent at just about everything but chopping wood and his family is suffering from his inability. Dickie has the shrill look of a religious fanatic, neck veins bulging and eyes bugging out. She looks like someone who is wound far too tight and Katherine is definitely that. Finally, young Harvey Scrimshaw shows some incredible depth as young Caleb; hopefully he’ll appear in some big budget event films because he so has game for that kind of thing.

This is the first movie of the year that I think has a good chance to end up on my end of the year top ten list. It’s scary as all get out and has subtexts of religious intolerance, suspicion and family ties strained by adversity. It’s smart, well thought out and doesn’t waste an instant of it’s 90 minute running time. So yes, go out and see it if you already haven’t. Every horror film fan should be flocking to this one for sure.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderfully atmospheric. Really captures the feel of the era. A beautifully layered script. Some lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Takes awhile to build which may frustrate the impatient sorts.
FAMILY VALUES: Creepy atmosphere, some graphic nudity and violence as well as some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There were plans to use more of Black Philip (the goat) but because the animal proved to be not as well-trained as the filmmakers would have liked, those plans had to be scrapped.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blood on Satan’s Claw
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: The Last Rites of Joe May

People Places Things


A meaningful look shared.

A meaningful look shared.

(2015) Romantic Comedy (The Film Arcade) Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Jessica Williams, Stephanie Allynne, Michael Chernus, Aundrea Gadsby, Gia Gadsby, Derrick Arthur, Celia Au, Paul Castro Jr., Jason DarkChocolate Dyer, Catherine Cain, Charles Cain, Brandon O’Neill, Alexa Magioncalda, Gavin Haag, Jordan Edmondson, Kiowa Smothergill. Directed by Jim Strouse

Sometimes life deals us a bum hand out of left field. We’re just thinking we’ve got things figured out and Blammo!, we discover we haven’t had a clue all along.

Will Henry (Clement) is a successful graphic artist who is deliriously in love with his twin daughters (played by the real life twins Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) who are throwing a party in honor of their fifth birthday. He goes off into the house looking for his wife Charlie (Allynne) for some party business or another. He finds her all right; in their bedroom having sex with sad sack Gary (Chernus). Will is of course upset, but Charlie turns things around and makes herself out to be the aggrieved party. She wants a divorce and custody of the kids.

A year later Will is still suffering from depression over the whole sordid affair. He has begun teaching graphic arts at a New York-area college, having moved to Astoria in Queens which is a long train ride into the City. He sees his girls on weekends and leads a fairly lonely existence. At this point, Charlie announces she is marrying Gary – because she is pregnant with his kid. She also wants to take an improv class, so she needs someone to watch the kids and as Gary is too busy doing his monologues off-off-off-Broadway, Will is the next best choice. Will likes this idea very much; he needs to be around his kids more often than just the occasional weekend.

In the meantime, Kat (Williams), one of the students in his class, takes a romantic interest in him – not for herself but for her 45-year-old mom Diane (Hall), a lit professor at Columbia. Against all odds, they hit it off, despite Diane’s disdain for the graphic novel format in general. The two begin dating.

Then things start to go sideways for Charlie. She’s getting cold feet, and she explains to Will that she doesn’t want to make the same mistake as she did the first time – which leads Will to believe that she regards their marriage as a mistake. But she still has strong feelings for Will and he for her – so where does that leave Diane? Or Will, for that matter?

Strouse has a bit of a checkered resume, with movies that are close but no cigar on it (like Grace is Gone) but here he finally makes the checkered flag. While the story does not exactly break new ground in the busted relationships genre, it is told well and given much life thanks to some strongly written character and some fine performances.

Chief among them is Clement, who is quickly developing into one of the strongest comic actors in the world. His dry, deadpan delivery is hysterical all by itself but where Clement excels as he did in HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. One of his strongest traits is that he can take an everyday guy, put him in an everyday situation and find something funny to mine out of it. He’s not the guy who makes us laugh hysterically; he’s the guy that makes us quietly chuckle to ourselves because we can find so much common ground.

Williams is a comedy star on the rise, and although her role here is fairly brief, she makes it entirely memorable. Williams is as hip a performer as there is and she looks as good on the big screen as she does on the small; only bigger, if you catch my drift. It wouldn’t surprise me if she becomes as big a star as I believe Clement is going to be, which is one of considerable size if you ask me.

]There is kind of a mopey hipster vibe here that I found myself not liking so much at first. It took me awhile to decide that I like the movie, but it is worth the effort to stay with it. Yeah, it’s got that New York indie ‘tude that I sometimes find stupefying but there is heart at the center of the movie and most of it belongs to Clement who continues to impress after the earlier this year What We Do in the Shadows.

Again, not entertainment that is going to rock your world or change your views on life. Quietly though, it gets under your skin and stays there, maybe the perfect indie romantic comedy in that regard. And we all know how vapid indie romantic comedies can be. This one is anything but that; it is surely smart, quietly funny and undeniably well-written. Those sorts of films tend to be few and far between while the mercury is still hitting the high notes during the last dregs of summer.

REASONS TO GO: Clement’s dry delivery is intoxicating. Some nice New York images.
REASONS TO STAY: A little too indie hipster douche in places, particularly early on.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language, some sexual references and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Williams is a regular correspondent on The Daily Show during the Jon Stewart era and continuing into the Trevor Noah era.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/21/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Motherhood
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Mateo

The Skeleton Twins


Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader reminisce about their SNL days.

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader reminisce about their SNL days.

(2014) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Joanna Gleason, Paul Castro Jr., Eddie Schweighardt, Sydney Lucas, Ian Hyland, Genevieve Adams, Jennifer Lafleur, Truck Hudson, Cliff Moylan, David Garelik. Directed by Craig Johnson

Nobody is guaranteed an easy life. Between financial troubles, relationship woes, career issues, medical difficulties and scores of other stresses, happiness can be an elusive quality. Some of us have the ability to deal with life’s twists and turns. Others, not so much.

The Skeleton Twins opens with Milo (Hader) attempting suicide. His twin sister Maggie (Wiig) is quite coincidentally, also considering suicide but when she is informed that her brother has been hospitalized she flies out to Los Angeles.

The two haven’t spoken in ten years and it is clear Milo is perfectly happy to extend that streak but Maggie perseveres and gets Milo to move in with her and her happy-go-lucky husband Lance (Wilson). Milo isn’t terribly enthusiastic at first and is a bit stand-offish with his twin but eventually begins to warm up.

He also begins to revert to old habits. He goes and sees Rich (Burrell), his old English teacher with whom he had an affair with when he was just 15, leading to Rich’s dismissal as a teacher when Maggie turned them in. It’s most definitely not a healthy relationship but Milo, as many of us will do, pursues it nevertheless. For Maggie’s part she is stressed by the fact that Lance wants to have kids and although she’s agreed to try is taking birth control behind his back. That, and she’s cheating on him with a parade of adult education instructors she’s been having affairs with, the most recent being her hunky Aussie scuba instructor Billy (Holbrook).

Part of Maggie’s reluctance towards motherhood stems from her own attitude toward her flighty, New Age-y mother (Gleason) who seems to care more about her own self-discovery than in nurturing her kids. While Milo seems to have made at least some peace with her, Maggie still has clearly not forgiven her and her mom’s unexpected appearance sends Maggie on a downward spiral.

Neither twin is coping well with life. Milo, a failed actor whose string of relationships have all ended in disaster, suspects that he peaked in high school, a fate that his father had predicted for the kids that tormented him for his femininity. Maggie has a great husband but still has mommy issues and especially, daddy issues – their father self-checked out when they were both kids – and is afraid of losing what she does have. Both snipe at each other and take out petty vengeance on one another until it appears that they will once again go their own separate ways.

The interesting thing about The Skeleton Twins is that we see glimpses of Milo and Maggie as kids and there isn’t any doubt that the two were very much there for each other and supported each other despite their own differentness. Clearly that bond has been sundered over the years, but it’s still there at the end of the day. Casting SNL veterans Hader and Wiig as the twins was a masterstroke. The two have a long history together and are very comfortable with each other, much in the way of siblings, and it shows. They are totally believable as twins, even though the physical resemblance is marginal at best.

Hader, in particular, shows the kind of layered performance that he just doesn’t get to show in the myriad sketch performances and supporting roles he’s had. Milo’s inner pain is palpable and when he gets drunk, which is often, his self-loathing is even more evident. Still, he keeps putting himself out there which is admirable and even though he is occasionally hateful and snide, he is infinitely relatable. This is if you’ll excuse the pun, his coming-out party as an actor, serving notice that he is more than just a wacky comic actor. He’s got depth.

Wiig also has some terrific moments. I’m less a fan of her work post-SNL but she can be a terrific actress when given the right material and this is certainly the right material. She, like Hader, has to convey a great deal of self-loathing here. Unlike Milo, Maggie is very aware that what she’s doing is destructive and wrong, but ultimately can’t help herself. At some deeper level, Maggie is looking to punish herself and wants Lance to find out about her improprieties. While Wiig isn’t as spectacular a performance as Hader, it is nonetheless solid and commendable.

Water is used as a motif here; most of the really major events have some sort of water element in them, from the opening scene when Milo slashes his wrists in the bathtub to the scuba lessons in a local pool to the goldfish swimming placidly in an aquarium. Water often denotes life in the movies and it does to an extent here but it is also a metaphor for death as goldfish do die (although obviously Milo does not). There is another event involving Maggie late in the film that I don’t want to give specifics about in the interest of not giving away too much but it also takes place in water.

While some of the time it feels like they’re pushing too hard to be funny (i.e. the scene in the dentist’s office where Maggie works) writer/director Johnson strikes a nice balance between humor and pathos throughout the movie, allowing for maximum catharsis. Suicide is definitely not an easy subject to deal with and it hangs over the movie like a Damoclean sword. Johnson leaves a lot of that subject unspoken, preferring to illustrate how the twins are affected by the suicide of their father and their own tendencies towards it visually without resorting to much discussion on the subject. It doesn’t really allow for a great deal of illumination but it does give audiences the opportunity to come to their own conclusions.

In some ways the movie sounds grim but it really isn’t. It’s not all bright and sunny though so if you’re looking for an escape type of movie you’re better off seeking out something a little more brainless. If you don’t mind a little thought along with your laughter, this might be the tonic you’re looking for.

REASONS TO GO: Hader gives a nuanced performance. Good mix of funny and pathos.
REASONS TO STAY: Tries too hard for laughs sometimes.
FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of foul language, some sexuality and a bit of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anna Farris was originally cast as Maggie but had to drop out due to schedule conflicts.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/1/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before I Disappear
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Dolphin Tale 2

The Myth of the American Sleepover


Ships that pass in the night.

Ships that pass in the night.

(2010) Coming of Age (Sundance Selects) Jade Ramsey, Nikita Ramsey, Amy Seimetz, Amanda Bauer, Jean Louise O’Sullivan, Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Brett Jacobsen, Annette DeNoyer, Wyatt McCallum, Mary Wardell, Steven M. Francis III, Megan Boone, Madi Ortiz. Directed by David Robert Mitchell

The last day of summer is a bittersweet affair for a high schooler. The sweet freedom of summer vacation is at an end and the school year is about to begin. The latter of course is the grind of homework and classrooms but also the possibilities of being another year older, another year closer to adulthood with everything that entails, the good and the bad.

In a small town in Michigan, that can be especially poignant. Small towns have their hierarchy, their social strata when it comes to high school. And being a small town, everybody knows everybody, everybody knows their place and that place is mainly in a town where nothing much ever happens.

Rob (Morton) runs into a beautiful blonde (Ortiz) and spends the night chasing her all over town. Fiercely independent Maggie (Sloma) chooses not to go to the party she was invited to but wants to go to something far more adult because she has an eye for pool boy Cameron (Francis). New girl in town Claudia (Bauer) is a bit of an outcast among the other girls because she has the gall to have a boyfriend (trollop!) of her own. And college-age Scott (Jacobsen) drives back to town from Detroit in order to pursue his high school dream girls the Abbey twins – Ady (Nikita Ramsey) and Anna (Jade Ramsey), ending up spending an evening discussing who he loves most and which twin actually loves him.

This is not a Project X destruction of property drunkathon. Sure the alcohol flows liberally but the point here isn’t getting into a coma; it’s to get to a point of comfort and confession. There is a bit of a mellow feel that is a refreshing counterpoint to the usual frenetic coming of age teen sex comedies.

And don’t fool yourselves, sex is the central issue here although the focus is more on discussing it rather than doing it. Which if you think about it is pretty much true for most teens. First-time director Mitchell gives the movie a more or less authentic feel – although my teen years were spent in the suburbs and not a small town, the characters here seem pretty familiar and realistic to me.

The trouble might just lie in the familiarity. While most of the actors here are relatively inexperienced, Sloma stands out mostly because she radiates more personality and attitude than the other actors. From my standpoint she seems to be more developed and perhaps more natural than the other actors – none of whom disgrace themselves, I might add. But Sloma stood out as someone with potential for a pretty serious career. The rest of the cast looks so youthful that at times they look like children dressing up as adults which could serve as a definition of teenagers in some ways.

The trouble is that in making the teens realistic teens that we are treated to one of the main drawbacks to being a teen – the not really knowing what you want or how to get it. Because of that, the film lacks a certain amount of focus, wandering seemingly aimless through plot points. And with that teenage concern for being hip and happening and up-to-the-minute, there’s a sense here that the filmmakers are a bit too self-aware about their own film – I have a feeling that in 20 years this movie will be exceptionally dated.

As first efforts go I’ve seen worse. You have to give the filmmakers props for making a coming of age teen sex dramedy more thoughtful and less raunchy. It portrays kids as more than just their hormones, which is also a worthy achievement. With some better story-telling and fewer characters, this might have been an important film. As it is there are too many storylines to really get you time to get involved with any of the characters. While there were no parents anywhere in the film (and precious little adult presence), you get the sense that Mitchell had parents in mind when he made this because it seems to me that this is a teen coming of age movie aimed at their parents more than at the teens themselves.

WHY RENT THIS: A more sensitive, indie version of the teen sex comedy.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Meanders aimlessly in places. Sometimes too self-conscious.

FAMILY VALUES: Sex and lots of it; actually more accurately, discussions about sex more so than depictions of the act itself. Also a pretty liberal use of foul language and some teen drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The trip from suburban Detroit to Ann Arbor that Scott undertakes is about 50 miles give or take.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $41,045 on an unknown production budget; although it’s production costs were certainly quite low, I’m reasonably sure that it lost money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dazed and Confused

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Jack and Jill


 

Jack and Jill

Dumb and Dumberer.

(2011) Comedy (Columbia) Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino, Elodie Tougne, Rohan Chand, Eugenio Derbez, David Spade, Nick Swardson, Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald, Allen Covert, Geoff Pierson, Valerie Mahaffey, Dana Carvey, Regis Philbin, Gary Valentine. Directed by Dennis Dugan

 

Have you ever had a houseguest who just drove you up a wall? Their habits were completely disgusting; they broadcast their opinions at volumes that would drown out a jet engine and before long even the  sight of them makes you want to scream. And why would you admit a houseguest like that? Because they’re family, that’s why.

Jack (Sandler) is a successful TV director who live in a beautiful home in Beverly Hills, a beautiful wife (Holmes) named Erin and two beautiful kids. He has a Mexican gardener (Derbez), courtyard seats at Laker games – everything you need for what qualifies for the perfect life in El Lay.

He also has two impossible tasks in front of him. The first is to satisfy a client – Dunkin Donuts to be exact but who’s keeping score – who want him to sign Al Pacino to be the celebrity spokesman for their new Dunkaccino product. Yeah, that’ll happen – but the most daunting task is to survive the annual Thanksgiving visit of his twin sister Jill (also Sandler) without shooting her in the face and dumping her body in a wood chipper.

That’s because Jill has all the tact of a rampaging rhinoceros on crystal meth. With her broad Bronx accent (which her brother has pretty much lost) and near-incomprehensible dumbness (she doesn’t know what the Internet is….seriously?) she may be the single most obnoxious and unlikable character in the movies in the last 20 years that I can think of. Maybe ever.

She wants some “twin time” so her Thanksgiving stay stretches into December, through Chanukah and beyond. Jack wants her gone by the time his family leaves for a much anticipated and much needed cruise. She has a list of things she wants to do, including  a Laker game where Jack runs into Al Pacino (playing himself). To the astonishment of everyone not named Al Pacino (including everyone in the audience) Pacino falls crazy head over heels for Jill which to me should have alone qualified him for an honorary Oscar, if not psychiatric evaluation.

Now Jack has the perfect “in” with Pacino but Jill, being the dim bulb she is, refuses to help a brother out. Now Jack stands to lose everything – including the sister who was one his Womb Mate (bwah haw haw haw haw). Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

This is a real mess. The crux of the movie is Sandler playing two roles that are similar but with some compelling differences beyond the obvious one of gender. Whereas Jack is composed, literate and successful, Jill is shrill, oblivious and a bit of a failure. Yet they still have the same mannerisms and look a lot like Adam Sandler which is pretty unfortunate for Jill because she looks pretty mannish and is never really convincing as a woman – she lacks the innate grace of movement that women possess. She is literally the Man Who Came to Dinner…and then stayed..and stayed…and stayed.

In fact Sandler is so unlikable in both roles that he won Razzies for both – the first time an actor has taken awards for each gender in the history of the dubious honor that is the Golden Raspberry. Jack and Jill in fact took a total of ten of them including all of the “major” awards, marking it the worst film of 2011. I guess you can make a case for it, although personally I’d have put Hop and Melancholia both ahead of it.

What saves this movie for me is Pacino. He is the very definition of a good sport, lampooning himself somewhat as a hyper-sensitive, temperamental diva of an actor who has abysmal taste in women and sees something in Jill NOBODY else can see; not even her brother. Sometimes strangers see us more truly than our own family does.

It’s easy to kick a dead horse, and this movie has all the stench of a rotting equine cadaver. While there are some bright spots – besides Pacino, Holmes acquits herself well – the lack of a truly funny script sinks the movie beyond all redemption. The sad thing is, the makers of this movie have all made very funny film previous to this, so it’s obvious they know how. Unfortunately, this is all base stuff that has the humor level of two six year olds on a school playground screaming “PEE PEE! DOO DOO! CACA!” and laughing hysterically at each other as they do. If you still do that, by all means rent this. If you think Adam Sandler can do no wrong, rent this. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

WHY RENT THIS: Holmes at least maintains a shred of dignity. Kind of fun seeing all the SNL vets onscreen, plus all the celebrity cameos. Pacino is fun to watch.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hideously unfunny. Sandler overacts shamelessly as Jill.

FAMILY VALUES:  The humor can be pretty crude; there’s also a little bit of violence for comic effect as well as some bad and/or suggestive language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Allen Covert plays Otto in the movie, the same role he had in Happy Gilmore.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on filming on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Allure of the Seas. There’s also a featurette on the various cameos that appear in the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $149.7M on a $79M production budget; the movie just about broke even.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mr. Deeds

FINAL RATING: A very generous 4/10

NEXT: Goats

What to Expect When You’re Expecting


What to Expect When You're Expecting

Elizabeth Banks and Brooklyn Decker do the Baby Belly Bump.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Lionsgate) Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, Chace Crawford, Chris Rock, Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Ben Falcone, Thomas Lennon, Joe Manganiello, Rob Huebel, Amir Talai, Rebel Wilson, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Directed by Kirk Jones

 

Childbirth is one of life’s miracles; where a new person is created from sperm and egg. Any mother will tell you that pregnancy is no picnic; there can be serious medical ramifications to the mother and while medical technology has improved, babies – and mothers – still die in the process. Giving birth then is a calculated risk.

On a “Dancing With the Stars”-like show, contestant Jules (Diaz), a Jillian Michaels-like trainer on a “Biggest Loser”-like show, captures the gold along with her dance partner Evan (Morrison). While the tabloids are speculating, the fact is that Alex is more than just a dance partner and it turns out that Jules is pregnant, which will force her to juggle her career as America’s favorite trainer with her pregnancy needs.

Watching the show where Jules triumphs is Rosie (Kendrick) and her roommates. Rosie works on a food truck that shows up in Atlanta parks and at events around town. Working for a rival truck is Marco (Crawford), an old high school classmate of hers. The two aren’t particularly friendly but they make a bet over whose specialty will sell more, they get to talking afterwards, one thing leads to another and she’s pregnant, without even having gone on a single date with him.

Also watching the show is Wendy (Banks), a children’s book author and an advocate for breast feeding. She and her husband Gary (Falcone) have been trying to get pregnant for months without any success. She desperately wants to experience all the things about pregnancy that she’s been writing about but hasn’t had the opportunity to feel for herself. So after a spontaneous tryst during an outdoor movie screening of Dirty Dancing, Wendy comes up pregnant. Gary can’t wait to share the news with his dad.

Her father in law is Ramsey (Quaid), a retired race car driver who is ultracompetitive as a father. He has remarried a trophy wife, Skyler (Decker) and makes no bones over his success as a driver and the money he has. Gary’s joy at announcing his wife’s delicate condition however is tempered when Skyler responds that she, too is pregnant and having twins – Gary is about to have siblings as well as a new child.

Finally, there’s Holly (Lopez), a photographer who loves kids but just can’t have any of her own. She and her husband Alex (Santoro) have decided to adopt an Ethiopian baby mainly because the wait times are shorter. Alex, however, is freaking out about the impending fatherhood thing so on the recommendation of Holly’s friend Kara (McLendon-Covey), Holly sends Alex to join the Dudes group, consisting of fellow dads Gabe (Huebel), Patel (Talai), Kara’s husband Craig (Lennon) and the leader Vic (Rock). To be honest, I’m not sure how helpful Alex found their advice but the camaraderie seems to be what he needs more.

Of course as the weeks and months go by and the due dates loom closer, there will be some issues. Some will find pregnancy nearly unbearable; others will breeze through it. Some will have issues with their partners, others with their own fitness as potential moms. One of them won’t make it to the delivery room. One may not make it out. All of them will find expecting not at all what they expected.

This is based on the best-selling pregnancy guide by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, which has been described as the “Bible of American pregnancy” which is a term I find amusing, as if there is a difference between American and Canadian pregnancies. USA Today named it one of the top 25 most influential books of the past 25 years.

Not having read the book, I can’t say for certain whether the movie has captured the spirit of the book. I can only judge it on its effectiveness as a movie. First of all, there are too many plot threads. Now I’m not against showing different aspects of pregnancy – as they do here, but what wound up happening is that we wound up not getting enough time with the characters to develop a whole lot of attachment to them.

It also doesn’t leave the actors a whole lot of time to make much of an impression. Diaz’ character comes off as pretty abrasive, while Banks gets to be something of a caricature. Decker actually seems to make the most headway as a genuinely sweet girl who understands a whole lot more about what’s going on around her than she lets on.

There are some genuine moments of pathos – one in which one of the prospective fathers is terrified that he might lose his wife, and breaks down, unable to even accept the awkward comfort of a fellow dad – and the movie abruptly switches to a scene of Lopez and Santoro in Ethiopia preparing to adopt a baby. It kills the momentum of the film and takes me right out of the emotional power of it, and I was unable to reconnect afterwards.

Admittedly this is going to appeal more to moms and mothers-to-be than those of us who don’t have the correct plumbing. That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be anything to appeal to those of us without wombs; Rock gets to deliver some of his best work in quite a few years and the whole Dude Group thing seems to have been inserted there to give boyfriends and husbands dragged along something to hang onto, although more likely to give their girlfriends and wives something to snigger at.

It’s not that I object to the movie on general principles – pregnancy is a part of life and there has yet to really be a movie that truly captures the pain, the joy, the fear – all of the emotions that go with it. There were moments that this movie did, particularly in the Rosie-Marco story. Unfortunately, too much fluff and padding smothered what could have been a really good movie and turned it into a mediocre one.

REASONS TO GO: At times captures the difficulties of pregnancy.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many storylines. Relies too much on cheap laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: While yes this is more about pregnancy than sex, there is some content that is a bit on the crude side. There is also some bad language which you would expect from someone who is in labor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the extras who appear to be pregnant (both in Atlanta and Ethiopia) actually were at the time of filming.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100. The reviews are mostly negative..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

FOOD TRUCK LOVERS: Several of the food trucks seen in the movie are actual working food trucks around the Atlanta area.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Intouchables