Sleeping With Other People


Getting laid in the Big Apple is easy for these two.

Getting laid in the Big Apple is easy for these two.

(2015) Sex Comedy (IFC) Alison Brie, Jason Sudeikis, Adam Scott, Adam Brody, Natasha Lyonne, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, Katherine Waterston, Marc Blucas, Skylar Gaertner, Andrea Savage, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Margarita Levieva, Billy Eichner, Jordan Carlos, Margaret Odette, Sawyer Shipman, Brian Berrebbi, Michael Delaney, Remy Nozik, Victoria Frings. Directed by Leslye Headland

There is that age old question of whether or not men and women can be friends with each other without being sexually attracted. According to When Harry Met Sally the answer is no, and since it’s been 26 years since that classic hit the theaters, writer-director Leslye Headland thought it was high time that question was re-explored.

Jake (Sudeikis) is a serial womanizer who just can’t keep it in his pants. It seems to be a by-product of his commitment phobia for when any woman he’s spending time with wants to get close, he does something spectacular to push her away (generally sleeping with her best friend or sister); one recently made an ex-girlfriend reacts by shoving him in front of a taxi.

&At a self-help meeting for sex addicts, he runs into Lainey (Brie), the girl who was his first back in college (he was her first as well). She’s still hung up on the gynecologist, Matthew (Scott) that she was in college, much to Jake’s amusement. Matthew has all the personality of a wet sock and he can’t for the life of him figure out what she sees in him. In any case, they decide to hang out and develop a deep friendship.

Not wanting to mess things up with sex, the two decide to remain platonic and even institute a “safe word” when they start to feel sexual attraction for each other. Needless to say, everyone around them, particularly Jake’s friends Xander (Mantzoukas) and Naomi (Savage) who are married to each other see full well what the two don’t – that they are perfect for each other. And of course they both know it too, but are too scared to take action on it. So they both take refuge in old behaviors, just like many of us do when confronted by the scary.

Headland has written a smart, modern romantic comedy that is incredibly sexy. In fact, the onscreen sex is much more graphic than most mainstream films usually show in terms of body movement and facial expressions; however, there are no genitalia on display which is a bit odd considering that at various points in the movie there are some rather graphic conversations, including one where Jake demonstrates the finer points of female masturbation to Lainey so that she can curb her urges.

Sudeikis has been knocking on the door of stardom ever since graduating from Saturday Night Live and here he does the best work of his cinematic career. This is the movie that defines his strengths in a nutshell; it doesn’t hurt that he is given some wonderful dialogue that’s both snappy and smart. At one point, he dismisses Matthew as “the Pontiac Aztek of people” which is a hoot especially if you’ve ever driven one.

Brie has also been someone who has been knocking on that door, but her career is a lot less established than that of Sudeikis. She shows here that she has the chops to be as good a comic actress as any out there, including such names as Kristen Wiig and Tina Fey. She certainly in many ways is as good as Greta Gerwig who gets more indie love. Perhaps after this movie, which was a big hit at Sundance and Tribeca, that will change.

The only issue here is that there are some situations that reek of New York indie cuteness which is a disservice to the film. I don’t expect every movie to innovate, but I would at least hope that one that is as smart as this one at least avoids some of the same cliches that other films have fallen victim to, but at least it doesn’t hurt the movie too much.

It helps that there is some fine talent in supporting roles, many of whom are literally there to be conquered sexually by either Jake or Lainey. Many critics are comparing this to When Harry Met Sally and while this is much more graphic than that film, the basic man-woman friendship vs. sexual attraction thing is still at the forefront, and like that movie, there is intelligence and depth. Does it come to the same conclusions as that iconic rom-com? I will leave it to you to find out for yourself because this movie is certainly worth the look. As for me, I’ll have what they’re having – and fortunately for me, I already am.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent dialogue. Sudeikis at his very best. Intelligently written.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many cute indie cliches. Might be too sexy for those sensitive to such things.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of graphic sex (but no graphic nudity), sexual dialogue and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scott and Mantzoukas both appeared together in Parks and Recreation.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: When Harry Met Sally
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Reversion

The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret )


"My fish was much bigger than your fish."

“My fish was much bigger than your fish.”

(2007) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour, Uri Gavriel, Shlomi Avraham, Imad Jabarin, Ahuva Keren, Francois Khell, Hisham Khoury, Tarak Kopty, Rinat Matatov, Rubi Moskovitz, Hilla Sarjon. Directed by Eran Kolirin

From time to time, plans go awry and we’re forced to improvise. Sometimes those moments of having to wing it reveal a lot about ourselves and have lasting repercussions on the rest of our lives.

The police band of Alexandria, Egypt is invited to Israel to play at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center. The bandleader, Colonel Tawfiq Zacharya (Gabai), is a ramrod-straight by-the-book sort of man, wrestling with the budget difficulties that are threatening the very existence of the band and the growing disposable nature of music in an increasingly apathetic world. He is told in no uncertain terms to represent Egypt properly while in Israel.

Once they arrive, things fall apart. The bus that’s sent to take them from the airport to the cultural center never arrives. Colonel Zacharya, ever the one for self-reliance, sends the womanizing Khaled (Bakri) to inquire about commercial bus service to the town they need to get to, but even this goes awry. The bus dumps them in a small town in the middle of the desert with only a clean and pretty superhighway showing any signs of civilization whatsoever.

Nonetheless, the small line of eight awkward Egyptian men in sky-blue band uniforms complete with gold braid and epaulets trudge to the center of town where the only sign of life shows; a tiny café where two slackers lounge in the sidewalk chairs. They summon the proprietor, a darkly beautiful woman named Dina (Elkabetz). When Zacharya asks in halting English (the universal language of the Middle East, apparently) where the Arab Cultural Center may be found, she says wryly “No Arab Cultural Center. Here there is no Arab culture. Also, no Israeli culture. Here there is no culture at all.”

It turns out they are in the wrong town, one that has a similar name to the one they were meant to go to. Worse yet, bus service has discontinued for the day and there is no hotel. After feeding the tired, hungry band, Dina arranges for the band members to be put up in the homes of the previously mentioned slackers, while taking Colonel Zacharya and Khaled to her own apartment. As the evening wears on, the uncomfortable Egyptians interact with the equally uncomfortable Israelis. In their uncomfortable silences, the realization grows that they are not as unalike as they might have thought.

The two leads are marvelous. Gabai’s craggy, weathered face (with a nose that would make the ghost of Jimmy Durante smile in satisfaction) hints at a soul battered by the world, but his carefully maintained composure, using polite gentility as a wall to protect him from the loneliness and pain surrounding him, speaks volumes. Dina is a woman who has seen life pass her by as she enters middle age. Still beautiful and able to find lovers, she has as yet been unable to find love. Her loneliness is palpable as she reaches out to the Colonel, obviously attracted to him, but unable to breach his walls. Elkabetz portrays that lonely core expressively through her eyes and body language; it really is a breathtaking performance. The fact that there is no way anything could possibly come of this in that place and time makes it all the more bittersweet.

Writer/Director Kolirin whose resume is mostly Israeli television programs proves a deft hand with a feature. His pacing is unhurried, matching the pace of life in the Israeli village, which suited me just fine. However, the pace may be a bit too languid for American audiences, who tend to prefer their comedies rapid-fire. Cinematographer Shai Goldman captures the desolation of the village, with the juxtaposition of the blue-clad band members making the ridiculous reasonable. When the band finally plays at the movie’s conclusion, the music is lovely and exotic.

The relationship between Dina and Colonel Zacharya is a wonderful glimpse into two souls who are basically good, but have been wounded by bad choices, bad luck and tragedies that may or may not have been out of their control. The comedy here is not broad and rapid-fire in the way of a Judd Apatow comedy, but more subtle, yet I still laughed out loud – and quite loudly too – on several occasions. The movie is gentle and endearing in a way that isn’t forced, something that you rarely see in American movies.

This is a gentle film that discusses the universal trait of loneliness, something that goes beyond culture, nation or religion. The pace is slow enough to nearly lull you to sleep, but I found it a means to easily enter into the charm of the movie. I suspect that this will appeal to a very limited audience; it simply doesn’t seem to resonate with general American audiences. Still, there are some fine performances and a look into a pair of cultures we know only in the broadest of terms. I liked it a lot more than the rating I gave it, but I can’t in good conscience recommend it for everybody. It takes patience and a willingness to be transported on a lazy river of charm. Those who like to see movies other than (or more than) the major Hollywood releases will find this rewarding; others who prefer their comedies broad and fast-paced will be bored.

WHY RENT THIS: Gentle charm. Elkabetz and Gabai give lovely performances.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too slow-paced for some.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is some sexual innuendo, and a curse word here and there.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Band’s Visit was originally submitted as Israel’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2008 Oscars but the Academy rejected the nomination as the film’s dialogue is more than 50% in English.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a photo gallery to go with most of the usual extras.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $14.6M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Flixster
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Where Do We Go Now?
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Rebound

Solitary Man


Solitary Man

Michael Douglas - alone again, naturally.

(2009) Drama (Anchor Bay) Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Ben Shenkman, Richard Schiff, Olivia Thirlby, Jake Richard Siciliano, David Costabile. Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien

As men get older, they see their vitality slipping away from them, their attractiveness. It is the nature of men to seek out sexual validation, particularly from younger, more attractive women. We need it to remind us that the lion still has teeth and can still roar when need be.

Ben Kalmen (Douglas) was once the toast of Manhattan. As Honest Ben Kalmen, he was one of the top car dealers in the Big Apple. He had a great wife in Nancy (Sarandon), a beautiful daughter in Susan (Fischer). However, he lost all of it – his wife because of his numerous and public infidelities, and his business because of his shady bookkeeping practices.

Now, he’s trying to get it back. He has a new girlfriend, Jordan (Parker), who used to be married to a mobster and now is trying to get with someone nice. She sends Ben up to a school near Boston with her daughter Allyson (Poots) to help check out the place, which also happens to be Ben’s alma mater – and he is able to pull a few strings to get her in. He takes a tour of the joint with Daniel (Eisenberg), a kind of socially awkward kid that Ben takes under his wing a little bit and tries to educate in the ways of men, at least the way manhood as Ben sees it. And then, Ben does something incredibly stupid and in the space of a few moments wipes out everything he’s trying to do.

Now Ben is struggling openly, now with serious heart trouble he finds a job at a deli with an old friend (De Vito) and learning humility in ways that he never thought he could – but are those lessons really taking? Or is Ben still the same man he always was, doomed to make the same mistakes?

This is one of those roles Douglas has excelled at. Not a very nice guy, is this Ben Kalmen. Like Gordon Gekko and the heroes of most of Douglas’ movies, there is a real son of a bitch at the core of his character. He isn’t particularly likable but in every instance he’s compelling. You hate what he’s doing but you can’t look away. Here, Douglas is at his best – this is one of his best performances in the past ten years hands down. When his doctor tells him that his heartbeat is irregular, Douglas’ face freezes and you can see his world coming to a stop. It’s a terrific moment, one that can only be accomplished by a great actor and Douglas is most certainly that.

His scenes with De Vito, who worked with him so regularly in the 80s, are masterful, two old pros comfortable together with one another and knowing each other like an old married couple. It doesn’t hurt to have people like Susan Sarandon supporting you either, and in all honesty, all of the actors here do a terrific job, with Eisenberg, on the cusp of stardom as he filmed this, particularly good in a role that on the surface seems a lot like the other roles he does but the more you watch him you realize that Eisenberg has some pretty good range that you never thought about.

It’s too bad the story here didn’t measure up to the acting. Unfortunately, there are a few cliches that get in the way of truly enjoying this. In addition, the movie loses steam near the end and the ending is a bit predictable leading up to the final scene.

In that final scene, Ben is given a shot at redemption but a pretty girl walks in front of him. He stands up, with the option of walking after the girl and into his old self-destructive ways, or towards forgiveness and maybe, a life. The credits roll before he makes his choice, but you honestly don’t know which way he is going to choose. Even though the events leading up to this moment are somewhat cliché, you are still left wondering which way events are going to transpire and for my money, that’s a great ending.

This is a seriously flawed work that is redeemed by the strength of the performances, which are almost to a person worth seeing. Ben Kalmen is not someone you’d probably want to have in your life, but he is incredibly charming and I sure didn’t mind spending a couple of hours with him. You’ll no doubt find yourself feeling the same way.

WHY RENT THIS: Douglas is spectacular and gets some fine support from DeVito, Parker, Eisenberg, Poots and Sarandon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story was a bit cliché and lost steam in the final 20 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of bad language and a fair amount of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The college scenes were filmed at Fordham; Douglas’ next movie (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) also was filmed at Fordham and also had Sarandon in the cast.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.2M on a $15M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

My Best Friend’s Girl


My Best Friend's Girl

A case of beauty and the beast.

(Lionsgate) Dane Cook, Kate Hudson, Jason Biggs, Alec Baldwin, Lizzy Caplan, Diora Baird, Riki Lindholme, Faye Grant, Mini Anden, Hilary Pringle. Directed by Howard Deutch

From time to time when a romantic relationship is ended by one of the parties involved, it isn’t because of infidelity or abuse; it’s because the person ending the relationship thinks he or she can do better. When we are the ones being dumped, we fervently hope that they find out quickly how good they really had it.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if you had someone help that particular education process along. Enter Tank Turner (Cook), customer service drone by day and relationship rescuer by night. He is hired by various guys who have been given their walking papers to date their exes and show them as bad a time as humanly possible so that they will run screaming out the door – and hopefully, back into the arms of the guys they just dumped.

Tank is exceedingly good at what he does – the date from hell thing, anyway or what his roommate calls “emotional terrorism.” He even has a list of ten obnoxious things he does to more effectively drive home the message that there are far worse guys out there than the loser she just left (and they are obviously losers, otherwise they wouldn’t have to pay someone to be worse than they are). Like anyone who knows how to drive a woman away, he also knows what is irresistible to them and so Tank does okay in the seduction department.

Tank’s roommate is his childhood friend Dustin (Biggs) who’s been going out with Alexis (Hudson) for a very long time. He REALLY wants to be with her forever, but for whatever reason she won’t commit to him. When she decides that she wants to end the relationship and explore other options, Dustin decides to utilize Tank’s service.

This wouldn’t be a romantic comedy if Tank didn’t wind up falling in love with Alexis, as she does with him. This really pisses off Dustin as you might imagine, who tosses Tank out on his ass, leaving Tank to commiserate with his father (Baldwin), a college professor who shows that the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree when it comes to his attitudes towards women.

I could go on about what happens next but you get the picture. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is leading and it takes either a high developed sense of curiosity or a particularly well-developed sense of self-loathing to care.

I don’t mind raunchiness, even for its own sake – it works well in movies like The Hangover and Hot Tub Time Machine. There needs to be either a commitment to just keep pushing the envelope, or some sort of semblance of charm to make it work, however; just recycling dick jokes, urination and vomit gags or judicious use of profanity aren’t enough to carry a movie.

Kate Hudson is a charming actress who not only resembles her mother but is actually tackling roles that her mom excelled at some 25 years ago; it seems criminal to me that she hasn’t really gotten the kind of part that would elevate her career, but quite frankly in the stampede to write the next Judd Apatow comedy I think there aren’t a lot of good roles for women being written and those that are get offered to a select group of actresses first.

There are a lot of online critics who regard Dane Cook with the same wary suspicion that one might regard a pit bull dripping foam from his jaws, but I’m not one of them. I like his standup routines and although I’m willing to admit his film career has been wildly uneven thus far, I’ve actually enjoyed his work in Dan in Real Life and Waiting. This won’t go down in history as one of his shining moments, but he does the best he can with a part that’s really unplayable.

This is the kind of movie that makes me gnash my teeth, not because it’s so bad but because it’s just good enough to tantalize me with the thought that it could have been better. It’s got a decent premise, a solid cast and a veteran director; what it doesn’t have is enough to fill in the gaps and keep the audience entertained the way the aforementioned movies did. There’s enough that I liked about My Best Friend’s Girl that I can recommend it to those who think Dane Cook RAWKS and to those who like raunchy sex comedies; to those who don’t like either you might want to think twice before renting this.

WHY RENT THIS: Hudson and Biggs aren’t bad actors and Alec Baldwin can make even a bad role seem better.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Decidedly un-funny and inescapably misogynistic, this movie is funnier in concept than it is in execution.

FAMILY VALUES: The raunch factor is fairly high with plenty of foul language, sexual suggestiveness and some nudity. Definitely not for the after-church crowd!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Cook grabs and squeezes Hudson’s behind, a stunt tush was used.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a whole lot of features ranging from Professor Turner’s system of rating girls to one on the usage of Boston as a location. If you are interested enough in the movie, you may find some of them notable.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Unknown White Male