On the Road


Bella Swan, you're all grown up!

Bella Swan, you’re all grown up!

(2012) Drama (Sundance Selects) Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Danny Morgan, Marie-Ginette Guay, Steve Buscemi, Joe Chrest, Terrence Howard, Coati Mundi, Michael Sarrazin, Ximena Adriana, Tetchena Bellange, Kim Bubbs, Tiio Horn, Giselle Itie, Giovanna Zacarias. Directed by Walter Salles  

The classic Jack Kerouac Beat Generation novel On the Road has literally been in development for decades. Nobody really knew quite what to do with the book. It finally got made and was released in late 2012; was it worth the wait?

Young Sal Paradiso (Riley), a stand-in for the author, meets Dean Moriarty (Hedlund) – who stands in for Neal Cassady – through mutual friends. Sal, grieving for his father and a writer stuck in a horrible case of writer’s block, is instantly taken by this young man who is full of life and not especially concerned with convention, rules or…well, anything that gets in the way of him having a good time. Charming and literate, Dean and his 16-year-old wife Marylou (Stewart) serve up alcohol, sex and marijuana with equal enthusiasms. When it’s time for Dean and Marylou to head back to Denver, Sal is invited to come visit.

It takes some time for Sal to get together the gumption and funds to go – even in postwar New York there aren’t a ton of jobs – but he finally does. He rides busses and hitchhikes across the pre-Interstate America and eventually gets there, only to find that Dean is cheating on Marylou with Camille (Dunst). Sal heads back, stopping briefly to pick cotton and have an affair with Terri (Braga).

Later, after Sal has returned to New York, Sal and his mother (Guay) are visiting Sal’s sister and her husband for the holidays in North Carolina when Dean turns up with Marylou and friend Ed Dunkle (Morgan) and offer to drive Sal and his mom back up to New York in exchange for a place to stay for the night and a meal. Sal’s staid sister and family aren’t quite sure what to make of the intruders.

After getting back to New York and spending some time partying, Sal decides to accompany the three back to Denver. On the way they stop in New Orleans to pick up Ed’s wife Galatea (Moss) and to visit Old Bull Lee (Mortensen) and his wife Jane (Adams). They continue crisscrossing the country and as they do Sal noticed that women are getting left behind quite regularly both figuratively and literally not only by Dean but by all of them (the lone exception is Carlo (Sturridge) who is gay and is one of those left behind by the bisexual Dean). After a disastrous trip to Mexico in which Sal contracts dysentery, at last he will see Dean for who he truly is – and find inspiration in the process.

In all honesty I’ve been less a fan of the writing of the Beat Generation and more of…well, admirer isn’t quite the right term. The Beat writers were full of bullshit, but it’s an honest bullshit, a young man’s bullshit. This is a movie about self-fulfillment in all its forms. I have to admit I haven’t read the book; okay, I might have but it was so long ago that I don’t remember it and so it adds up to the same thing.  Therefore, I’m not really the one to evaluate whether the spirit of the book was captured so we’ll leave that as a N/A for now.

Salles, who is no stranger to road movies having directed the Che Guevara quasi-biopic The Motorcycle Diaries has a firm hand here and allows the allure of the road to shine through; the endless stripes passing by through landscapes mostly desolate but wonderful in their emptiness. However, keeping in mind that the movie runs about two hours give or take, that can only sustain a film so much.

The characters here are so incredibly self-involved that it’s difficult to find a lot of sympathy for the lot of them. Mostly they’re about indulging whatever hedonistic pleasure grabs them at the moment, and Dean is the mainstay in that regard. For Dean, friends and lovers are to be exploited, discarded when the need for them diminishes or when boredom sets in. He wants to meet people who have something to say that isn’t the usual postwar pabulum of pandering prattling polemic, empty of soul and emptier of head. That’s all well and good but what does interesting companions really do for you if you make no connection to them?

Admittedly the relationship between Dean and Sal is the centerpiece here in that there is more or less a relationship of mutual respect and debauchery but in the end Dean uses Sal just as thoroughly and just as despicably, maybe even more so than the others. Hedlund gives the performance of his career thus far in capturing Dean’s natural charisma and sensual charm that attracted both women and men to him like moths to a flame. Riley, a British actor who’s turned in some really incredible performances in his young career, is solid here as the yin to Hedlund’s yang, and to my mind it’s a generous move because by not shining quite so bright he allows Hedlund’s glow to be more noticeable and the movie benefits from it.

You can only take so much self-indulgent behavior and there’s really a whole lot of it here. There’s an amazing amount of smoking and drinking, not to mention a ton of sex and drug use. I don’t begrudge anyone who partakes in any of those things but it’s a bit more boring to watch than you’d expect.

This is a generation that is not unlike the 20-somethings that are out there right now; people trying to find their own way in a world that doesn’t really get them much, so they are forced to reinvent the world to fit their view. I can commend the ballsyness of the strategy but it doesn’t always make for good cinema unless of course these are your people too.

They aren’t really mine. There just isn’t any appeal in watching people indulge their most hedonistic and basic whims while forgetting to make any connection to other people. It’s an ultimately empty and meaningless pursuit. Life is about connections, not so much about carnality. It’s a lesson that the young learn as they get older, although some never learn it at all.

Some will look at these characters and see heroes bucking the system and living life on their own terms. I see people who screw their friends over and whose only concern is having a good time. One must grow up sooner or later (you would hope) and to be honest, watching this is like watching children acting out. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt – sorry if that means I fail the coolness test.

REASONS TO GO: Some good performances, particularly from Hedlund. Captures the allure of the road and the essence of the era.

REASONS TO STAY: Characters far too self-indulgent to connect to.

FAMILY VALUES:  A whole lot of sex, swearin’ and smokin’ of weed.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Francis Ford Coppola originally bought the rights to the novel in 1979 and has been attempting to get the film made since then.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/1/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 44% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100; the reviews are lukewarm at best.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Neal Cassady

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Admission

Breaking Upwards


Breaking up is hard to do.

Breaking up is hard to do.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Andrea Martin, Olivia Thirlby, Ebon Moss-Bacharach, Julie White, Peter Friedman, LaChanze, Pablo Schreiber, Heather Burns, Tate Ellington, Francis Benhamou, David Call, Sam Rosen, Max Jenkins, Audrey Allison. Directed by Daryl Wein

It is said that it isn’t always easy to pin down when a relationship begins but it is almost always obvious when a relationship ends. Hollywood tends to spend much more time in the former situation and much less in the latter and usually when a relationship ends in a Hollywood movie it’s always sudden, event-based and rarely the way things work in real life.

Daryl (Wein) and Zoe (Lister-Jones) have been going together for four years. He’s a writer and filmmaker, she’s an off-Broadway actress. Sex between them has become almost routine and just something that Zoe wants to get over with as quickly as possible.

Obviously the bloom is off of the rose of their relationship and the two of them, being good New York hipsters, decide that they’re going to spend some time apart but not the way most normal couples do. Instead, they’re going to pick several days during the week when they are forbidden from seeing each other. Hopefully this enforced time off will help them gain some perspective.

Instead, it gives them opportunities for them to see other people – Alan (Schreiber) in her case, Erika (Thirlby) in his. It also gives the relationship an opportunity to die slowly. Daryl moves in with his mom (White) while Zoe’s mom (Martin), a sort of hippie feminist sculptor with a big dash of Jewish mom thrown in for  good measure, attempts to help Zoe get through a situation that mom doesn’t quite understand.

Wein and Lister-Jones co-wrote the script (along with Peter Duchan) and reportedly based it on their own experiences as a couple when they were going through a rough patch (they are no longer together). Wein, who would go on to direct Lola Versus, shows some nice touches in depicting a relationship in a realistic manner but then turns it into an indie hipster fest with characters hanging out in coffee houses, listening to indie rock and talking like they based their dialogue on episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Wein and Lister-Jones make an engaging couple as you might expect having had a real life romance but it is after they separate that things kinda lose their steam. That’s a bit opposite of what I would have hoped for; in a chronicle of a relationship’s demise, I would hope that there would be more intensity as things spiral towards their inevitable conclusion.

The supporting cast, most of whom worked for scale if they took money at all is pretty impressive, with SCTV alum Martin showing the most depth but veterans White and Friedman also get some pretty nice scenes and Moss-Bacharach and Thirlby contributing some key scenes as well.

I take it that Wein and Lister-Jones are New Yorkers and of course they’re going to write about what they know. No problems there, although I think that at some point there are going to be enough movies about New York/Brooklyn hipsters and perhaps we’ll see people that don’t live in lofts that they can’t possibly afford, aren’t artists or artistic and don’t eat out and go out drinking more often than Paris Hilton does. If you’re going to make a movie about real relationships, the least you can do is make the environment real as well – at least, not a cliché typical indie flick New York environment which has been done to death.

I liked the premise a lot but the execution left a lot to be desired, mostly on the writing end. I can take a script in which the leads do senseless things – when it comes to love and relationships, often the things we do in real life don’t make sense either. What I can’t take is a movie that’s serious in tone getting unexpectedly precious which takes me right out of the experience. There are some things here that work, enough for me to give it an average rating but I hope that Wein continues to grow as a filmmaker and tries a few other environments other than the one discussed. I think he needs to be taken out of his comfort zone a bit in order to be a better filmmaker, although in all fairness this was a local production made on a microscopic budget that probably wouldn’t cover office supplies on a major studio release. I can commend the movie for not looking or feeling that it was made on the cheap but I just wish it took a less consciously hip tone.

WHY RENT THIS: A rare realistic look at a relationship’s end. Some good performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again, awfully New York-centric. Some cutesy-pie moments derail the movie’s overall tone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The New York Times did an article on the film’s production, praising it as an example of “sweat equity” or the use of alternative methods to acquire cast, crew and production funding.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A photo tutorial.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77,389 on a $15,000 production budget; the movie was quite profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Uncertainty

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Deadline

Ruby Sparks


Zoe Kazan has just punk'd Paul Dano.

Zoe Kazan has just punk’d Paul Dano.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas, Elliott Gould, Steve Coogan, Chris Messina, Deborah Ann Woll, Aasif Mandvi, Toni Trucks, Jane Ann Thomas, Alia Shawkat, Wallace Langham, Emma Julia Jacobs. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

 Cinema of the Heart

The problem with love is that we can’t have the perfect mate. That’s because we ourselves are imperfect and besides, how boring would it be if the person we were with was perfect? There’d never be any growth…ever. It would always be exactly the same. What would you do with perfection?

Calvin (Dano) isn’t really worried much about perfection. He is worried that he might have already peaked in life. He wrote a wildly successful, award-winning novel when barely out of high school. That was ten years ago and he hasn’t written a word since. His brother Harry (Messina) is supportive as his agent (Coogan) who surely must be the most tolerant agent in history. Calvin still does the occasional reading and still carries enough cache to get numbers slipped his way but he is in a funk that has finally compelled him to see a shrink (Gould) who tells him to write about the perfect girlfriend.

This works wonders. Calvin starts writing in a feverish pitch about the most wonderful girlfriend ever. She makes all other girls look like harpies by comparison. Calvin can’t stop writing about her…until she shows up in his house, just as real as you or I.

At first, Calvin thinks he’s blown a fuse. Then he realizes that everyone can see her, and that she is in fact real. Calvin freaks out quite naturally while Ruby (Kazan) wonders why he’ s acting so strangely. However it turns out that when Calvin writes about her, whatever he writes happens; if he writes she speaks French fluently, she starts conversing in perfect French. If he writes that she’s doing naked jumping jacks…well, you get the idea.

The relationship turns toxic though. Calvin turns into a right little shit about it and starts abusing his power over poor Ruby who although compelled to do as he writes is still an autonomous thinker in all other ways. Can a man mess up the perfect situation?

Of course he can. That’s the nature of men after all. Dayton and Faris, the team that brought us Little Miss Sunshine, have this as their follow-up and while it doesn’t measure up to their last movie in terms of sheer quality and laughs, proves that it at least wasn’t a fluke either.

Dano is at once both the perfect choice and the wrong choice for Calvin. He’s perfect in that he captures Calvin’s indecisive nature and his kind of general “wandering through life” vibe. He is the wrong choice however in that the very things that make him perfect make it difficult for an audience to connect with the lead character. Is that a fault of the actor? I dunno. I think that a lot of indie comedies have aspired to a Jon Heder-like character in every comedy which perhaps is an unconscious attempt to duplicate the success of Napoleon Dynamite which is the kind of studio douchebaggery the indie scene is supposed to be against.

The movie has a kind of a sweet core though which is nothing to sneeze at, and Kazan does make for the world’s best girlfriend, which isn’t surprising since she co-wrote the movie. While the ostensible protagonist is Calvin, it is Ruby that you’ll remember from the film and Kazan’s portrayal of her. She has the same kind of screen attractiveness that another Zoe (well, Zoey – Deschanel) possesses and may well have the same kind of successful career that she has.

I like the premise a lot but thought the execution of it was uninspiring. Calvin’s decline from nice nebbish to real jackhole is a bit jarring and doesn’t serve the story well. I kept wondering what the point was that the writer were trying to make – that all men are manipulative jerks, or that perfection is something we can’t handle, or that we’re never satisfied with what we make up in our heads – I don’t really get it. But then again that might be part of the master plan, to leave you trying to figure it out which isn’t a bad thing. It’s still a really good movie despite my criticisms of it and I really do recommend it whole-heartedly but I’m still scratching my head a bit.

WHY RENT THIS: Kazan makes a great perfect girlfriend. Intriguing premise.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions. Dano a bit too laid back.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s quite a bit of bad language and a little drug use and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At the time of filming, not only were Dayton and Faris a couple but so were Dano and Kazan.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a real interesting but brief featurette on real life couples involved in the making of the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.1M on an unknown production budget; I think that the movie was profitable in all likelihood.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stranger Than Fiction

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Conclusion of Cinema of the Heart 2013

HappyThankYouMorePlease


HappyThankYouMorePlease

Malin Akerman demonstrates the proper “crazy eyes” technique.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Anchor Bay) Josh Radnor, Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Richard Jenkins, Zoe Kazan, Tony Hale, Pablo Schreiber, Michael Algieri, Bram Barouh, Mary Elena Ramirez, Peter Scanavino, Fay Wolf, Dana Barron, Sunah Bilsted. Directed by Josh Radnor

 

There comes a point in all of our lives when we turn from twenty-somethings to thirty-somethings. It’s a bit of a milestone and in many ways it’s not that easy. For most of us, it’s a milestone from which we graduate from being “young people” to being “adults.”

For Sam (Radnor) and his friends, that change isn’t coming easily. Most of Sam’s circle are aspiring artists; none have really accomplished much in the arts to be honest. Sam has written a novel but not gotten it published although, with a title like The Other Great Thing About Vinyl there’s perhaps a clue why not. Sam is in fact on his way to see a publisher when he spies a kid hanging around the subway.

Sam senses there’s something wrong and tries to help. It turns out the kid, Rasheen (Algieri) was left there. Sam tries to deliver him to the authorities but when that doesn’t work out, he decides that Rasheen can stay with him until Sam can figure something out. Sam is apparently not the sharpest blade in the shed.

He has plenty of competition for that though. Mary Catherine (Kazan), who is Sam’s cousin,  is also a painter in the village – no, she doesn’t paint houses – who loves New York, even though for what she makes she can barely afford it. In fact, she probably wouldn’t be able to were it not for her filmmaker boyfriend Charlie (Schreiber) who has at least been working regularly; now he has received a job offer in Los Angeles, a lucrative one. He wants to go; she wants to stay, showing the kind of L.A. Hate-on only a New Yorker could generate, as well as that insular feeling that the Apple is the only city in the world that those Manhattan dwellers sometimes get. Their relationship has reached a crossroads and could go down either road – separately or together.

Annie (Akerman) has Alopecia, a disease that causes hair loss – in Annie’s case, complete hair loss. She wears an African head scarf to disguise this. She wonders if she can ever be truly loved – but then her taste in men is disastrous. Most of the men she chooses are borderline abusive and are only interested in one part of her body (and it isn’t her hair or lack thereof). A lawyer in her office whom she refers to as Sam #2 (Hale) is sweet on her, but his attempts at courtship are awkward and occasionally creepy. Still, he seems to be a nice enough guy but he’s simply not cool enough for her.

In the meantime, Sam #1 has become fixated on a waitress/barmaid named Mississippi (Mara) who is also a singer and is working hard to break into the music business but until then is waiting tables. She brings much stability into his life, although when she finds out the truth about Rasheen (whom she assumed was Sam’s biological progeny) becomes rightfully concerned as to whether Sam is the right guy for her.

Radnor also wrote and directed this, his first feature film. He is best known for playing Ted on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” In some ways, the characters here are sitcom-like, more caricature than character. Think of it as a hipster sitcom.

Although this is essentially an ensemble film, these are not interweaving stories but part of the same one. Akerman is a fine actress who sometimes gets parts that showcase her abilities; this isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, she elevates it, turning the role of Annie who has elements of self-pity woven into her personality into less of a whiner and more into a compelling character you want to know better. That’s a testament to her talents, and her performance is far and away the best thing going for the film.

Elsewhere, the performances range from marginally okay to satisfactory. Nobody disgraces themselves here but other than Akerman nobody else rises above either. For the most part this is pleasant but unmemorable. The title refers to something an Indian cabbie tells Annie – I’m paraphrasing, but essentially that it is necessary to go about life being grateful for the things that make you happy, and to ask the universe for more of those things. It gives the film a kind of optimism that is not that unusual in indie films these days (you want pessimism, see a 70s film).

However, also the norm in indie films is a focus on a hip New York lifestyle that as depicted the people involved couldn’t possibly afford to live. Sam, for example, has no apparent income and yet lives in a nice apartment in the Village. While not science fiction per se, it does enter that fantasyland of indie films that we have just learned to accept as part of the reality of movies – like the characters always get a parking spot in front of the place they want to go, for example. Just accept and move on.

The movie is charming enough to be palatable while you’re watching it, but won’t stick around in your memory much more than it takes to find something else to do. The film’s message on finding the things that truly make you happy isn’t a particularly revolutionary one nor is it told in a particularly revolutionary manner. It’s just a decent first feature for someone who shows enough promise that I look forward to seeing where he goes from here as a filmmaker and actor.

WHY RENT THIS: Akerman elevates her material. Some moments of insight here and there.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little heavy on the indie cliché. A bit unfocused in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of bad language here.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Radnor wrote the film while working on the first and second seasons of “How I Met Your Mother.” He then spent the next two years acquiring financing, writing revisions and casting actors in their roles before shooting in July 2009, just three months (including six weeks of pre-production) after getting the financial backing.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on music composer Jaymay.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $216,110 on an unreported production budget; the film broke even at best (but probably didn’t).

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Garden State

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Men in Black III

For Love of the Game


For Love of the Game

Kevin Costner wonders why he can't have Crash Davis behind the plate.

(1999) Sports Drama (Universal) Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Jena Malone, Brian Cox, Vin Scully, J.K. Simmons, Carmine Giovinazzo, Bill Rogers, Hugh Ross, Greer Barnes, Scott Bream, Michael Papajohn, Daniel Dae Kim, Juan Nieves, Michael Emerson. Directed by Sam Raimi

 

Kevin Costner does baseball movies like no other actor in history. Sure, Pride of the Yankees and Fear Strikes Out are arguably better movies than Field of Dreams and Bull Durham (and you’d get a pretty loud argument from some quarters) but consistently, no other actor has better understood the mystical appeal of the Grand Old Game, nor been any abler at understanding this country’s connection with it.

For my part, I’m more of a hockey fan these days, but give me a hot dog, a beer and a baseball game on a summer’s day, and suddenly I’m waxing poetic as well as nostalgic. I couldn’t tell you what appeals to me about the game … only that it does. Somehow, I think Costner is in the same boat.

In this, his third movie that has baseball at its core, Costner plays Billy Chapel, a once-dominant pitcher (think Roger Clemens) who is in the twilight of his career, described as someone with a reservation for the hall of fame, who has won every award a pitcher can win, someone who has won the adulation of the fans — and of women. You’d think he has it all.

Yet he has been dealt a double blow. His beloved Detroit Tigers, for whom he has excelled for 19 years, are on the verge of being sold to a corporate buyer. The first item on the corporate agenda is to trade the aging pitcher who still has some name value while they can still get something decent for him … and at less than his current salary. The second item is that his girlfriend, Jane (Preston) has accepted a job in London and has skipped a hotel rendezvous because she couldn’t figure out a way to tell him that their relationship is over.

All of this, and the New York Yankees too. See, the Yankees are on the verge of clinching another pennant and only the lowly Tigers, suffering through a mediocre season (with Chapel heading up the list of less-than-stellar performances) stand in their way. Yankee Stadium. A national telecast. His personal life in ruins. His professional career on the verge of ending. Seems like a pretty good time to put it all on the line one last time.

Chapel throws as hard as his aching arm will allow. For one shining evening, he is the Billy Chapel of old. Out follows out follows out. Inning after inning. And as the game progresses, Chapel is dwelling on the last five years of his life, on his relationship with Jane, on the injury that almost ended his career, and on the way a man, so admired, so confident, so great on the ballfield, could be failing so badly off of it.

As the game begins to get into the late innings, the great Billy Chapel suddenly realizes he is on verge of making baseball history – pitching a perfect game, one of the rarest occurrences in baseball. 27 men up, 27 men down, no hits, no walks, no errors.

Strangely enough, with all this baseball involved, it really is a chick flick. The center of this story is not Billy Chapel’s baseball career, nor is it the perfect game he is throwing. The center of For Love of the Game is Billy’s relationship with Jane. Preston does a great job of playing Jane as a strong woman who has been damaged by bad choices, but who has survived, and excelled in her own way. She has needed no one in her whole life  but suddenly finds herself in a relationship with a famous man, a relationship that is deepening into love.

Neither one of these people are perfect, which is what gives this movie some kick. At various times in the movie, I was shrieking the word “Bonehead!” at both of ’em, and to Costner’s credit, he plays Billy as neither the mythic baseball hero nor the aging jock but as a man who has been at the top of his profession for almost 20 years, who has given so much of himself to the game that he has nothing left for anyone else.

Unfortunately, that makes something of a quandary for director Sam Raimi. Is this a baseball movie, a love story or what? Wellllll it’s both and it’s neither and it winds up being sort of an amalgam, and thereby winds up satisfying not all of the needs of baseball fans or romance junkies. Da Queen gave For Love of the Game three hankies; a quiet little weep in the corner, but not a full-out bawling. Me, this is no perfect game by a long shot and of Costner’s baseball trilogy this is the least-known and probably the weakest film of the three, but it still has its own charms and plenty of reasons to look into renting it.

WHY RENT THIS: Costner does baseball. Need I say anything more?

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is no Field of Dreams. A romance masquerading as a sports drama.

FAMILY MATTERS: The movie has its share of bad language and a couple of scenes that are sexually charged.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The shot of Billy Chapel’s parents early on in the film are Kevin Costner’s actual parents. Also Daniel Dae Kim and Michael Emerson, who both had minor roles in this film, would go on to both play major roles in “Lost.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s an interactive trivia game which if you’re able to answer all the questions correctly will play an old short film, Play Ball With Babe Ruth. There’s also a text supplement which details the odds of pitching a perfect game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $46.1M on an $80M production budget; unfortunately, the film was a flop at the box office.

FINAL RATING: 6/8

TOMORROW: Win Win

Death at a Funeral (2010)


Death at a Funeral (2010)

Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence wonder if they should have remade Four Weddings and a Funeral instead.

(2010) Urban Comedy (Screen Gems) Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Loretta Devine, Danny Glover, Peter Dinklage, James Marsden, Luke Wilson, Zoe Saldana, Ron Glass, Columbus Short, Regina Hall, Keith David, Kevin Hart. Directed by Neil LaBute

A funeral is a time for somber reflection, to celebrate the life of someone who’s passed on. It is not a time for hi-jinks, which is why a movie about such tomfoolery is ripe to be funny – and was, in a 2007 British movie on which this was based.

The patriarch of an African-American family has passed away and his son Aaron (Rock) is organizing the funeral at the family home per daddy’s instructions. Aaron has dreams of being a writer, like his successful brother Ryan (Lawrence). Aaron’s mother (Devine) wants a grandchild, the lack of which she attributes for her husband’s death. His wife Michelle (Hall) is with mom, but she also wants to see Aaron give up on his dream and get to reality.

There are others coming to the funeral. Cantankerous Uncle Russell (Glover), Norman (Morgan) the hypochondriac, Elaine (Saldana) who has accidentally slipped her nervous white boyfriend Oscar (Marsden) a powerful hallucinogenic, and Derek (Wilson), Elaine’s ex who would love to get her back.

Throw in Frank (Dinklage), who had a homoerotic affair with the deceased and now wants to get paid (which astonishes Aaron that his brother is upset about it – not that Daddy’s butt buddy is short but that he’s white) and a mix-up regarding who’s in the coffin and you’ve got hi-jinks at a funeral, which is pretty much what a good comedy pitch would be.

Director LaBute has some of the most accomplished comics of our generation working in this movie; in all honesty, this should have been way funnier than it was. The problem here is not with the talent but with the energy – it seems to be more shtick than inspired. There are plenty of bits and some of them are rather funny – Marsden nearly steals the movie with his spaced out yuppie. Mostly the problem is that the characters are just so one –dimensional; they seem to exist to fill spots in the shtick, rather than to be living, breathing people for the viewer to relate to.

Rock, who is one of the funniest men on the planet when he is doing his own material, seems curiously subdued and even bored. He goes through the motions to my mind, and in many ways that’s the most egregious disappointment here. I really like Rock as a comedian and a comic actor but this seemed to lack energy and focus. I suspect he found the role to be so underwritten that he kind of just decided to phone things in.

Lawrence fares a little better but only a little bit. He has a bit more manic energy than the others, which helps him stand out. At the end of the day, however, his character is a bundle of clichés that never really gels into a cohesive whole. He does his best with it but by the end of the movie you can scarcely remember who he was playing or what motivated him.

Other than Dinklage and Marsden, most of the supporting cast is equally as forgettable and that’s a bloody shame. There is enormous talent here and it’s almost criminal that it was squandered so miserably. The movie that this was based on (and re-written by the original scribe) had some issues as well – that movie went for stuffy a little bit more than it needed to. Somewhere in between that movie and this one there is a comedy classic, but sadly it never really manifested itself in either movie. There are moments here that underscore the potential, but not enough to make you wish that the movie was the one in the coffin.

WHY RENT THIS: There are some great comedians in this movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: They don’t really have a lot to work with.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug use as well as a fair bit of foul language and a bit of sexually based humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Peter Dinklage is the only actor to appear in both the 2007 movie and the remake in the same role.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a gag reel and on the opposite end of the spectrum, a featurette in which the cast gives their thoughts on death and grieving. Huh?

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49.1M on a $24M production budget; the movie was slightly profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Jane Eyre (2011)

My One and Only


My One and Only

Renee Zellweger is courted by yet another unsuitable suitor.

(Freestyle Releasing) Renee Zellweger, Logan Lerman, Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth, Troy Garity, David Koechner, Eric McCormack, Steven Weber, Nick Stahl, Mark Rendall, Robin Weigert. Directed by Richard Loncraine

The road to growing up can often be a treacherous and confusing one, even under the best of circumstances. Sometimes that road can take you to some really unexpected places and unexpected conclusions.

Ann Devereaux (Zellweger) is a willful, beautiful blonde Southern belle who is the trophy wife of bandleader Danny Devereaux (Bacon). He is best known for the hit song “My One and Only” (not the Gershwin song, for those who know the standards well). He is also a philanderer, the kind of guy who simply can’t help himself when it comes to women. When Ann comes home to Danny “entertaining” a young lady – in her bed – it’s the last straw. She cleans out the safety deposit box, buys a baby blue Cadillac Coupe de Ville and hits the road, her sons George (Lerman) and Robbie (Rendall) in tow.

Robbie is a closet homosexual who dreams of Hollywood; George is a bit more grounded and yearns to write. Ann’s only aspiration is to find a rich husband to support her and her boys in the manner in which they’ve been accustomed to.

This doesn’t go very well. Each stop brings another loser, from Wallace McAllister (Weber), a businessman who is nearly broke and who rifles through Ann’s wallet and runs off while she’s in the restroom. Then there’s Col. Harlan Williams (Noth), a rabid anti-Communist military sort who has a streak of violence in him that isn’t compatible with Ann’s gentrified soul. Old flame Charlie (McCormack) makes no bones about it – Ann’s shelf life as a bombshell has expired, and she is competing with younger women for the same scraps. This leads to a misunderstanding that gets Ann arrested.

Nonetheless, she perseveres, even though George outwardly doubts her decision making and making it clear he wants to go back to his dad, who is less than enthusiastic about taking him. Ann then determines to work for a living, but after disastrous attempts at waitressing and sales, Ann finally meets a paint retail tycoon named Bill Massey (Koechner) who looks to be the most promising suitor yet, but even that doesn’t work out as planned.

The movie is loosely based on the life of actor George Hamilton, who is as well known for his tan and his tango these days as he is for his acting career (he’s also the executive producer of the movie). While it doesn’t give you insight into his acting, the movie will at least give you some insight into the man.

The movie has a bit of a split personality, in a good way. The first part of the movie really belongs to Zellweger, and she carries it pretty well. Nobody does plucky, ditzy blonde quite as well as Zellweger (see the Bridget Jones movies, although Lisa Kudrow does nearly as well on “Friends”), and she captivates the screen throughout. Her Ann Devereaux is brave and terminally cheerful, but with a hint of diva in the background. It must have been a fun role to play and you can see Zellweger enjoying herself.

The second half is Lerman’s, and while his story is a bit more complex, he doesn’t quite rise to the challenge but neither does he fail utterly. Instead, he delivers a solid but unspectacular job that doesn’t measure up to the luminescent performance of Zellweger. Each of the suitors have their own charms, although Koechner surprisingly does the most memorable work here as the troubled tycoon. Some of his scenes have a poignancy that elevates the movie quite a bit, as well as the comic timing Koechner is better known for.

Loncraine does a really nice job of evoking the 50s; the setting lives and breathes in his capable hands instead of being something of a distraction as period pieces often are. This is an era that feels lived in, from the posh penthouses of Manhattan to the grubby motels on Route 66. While this is ostensibly a comedy (and there are some funny portions to it), the truth is the dramatic portions work better; you get the feeling Loncraine was going for a bit of a screwball feel (one review likened it to the work of Preston Sturges, which is a dead on observation).

This got a very limited release when it came out and largely flew under the radar. It deserves better; there are some very fine performances and some nice moments, enough to make this a solid recommendation. Check it out on cable or at your local home video emporium; you’ll be glad you did.

WHY RENT THIS: Lerman does a credible job, while Koechner is surprisingly effective. The era is nicely evoked. Zellweger is excellent as the fading bombshell past her prime.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Tries too hard to be a screwball comedy.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language and some sexuality here and there; nothing you should be ashamed of showing to a 13-year-old.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is dedicated to Merv Griffith, who helped Hamilton develop the project and shepherded it through filming, but didn’t live to see it completed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Lorna’s Silence