Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Movies Explosion, 2008! Part One!

When I was a senior critic at, I got the chance to do top 10 lists and year-end stuff. But now that I'm older (and have the responsibility of managing a blog), I figured that we could expand our horizons.

To that end, this isn't going to be a year-end rehash of the best movies of 2008 because my reviews pretty much tell you what I thought was great and what sucked rocks. Second, there's still stuff I need to see. What if The House Bunny was the trascendent movie experience of '08, and I don't include it on my list? Then, I look like a schmuck forever because I decided to read a book or go for a walk.

So, here's a list of the things that caught my attention in 2008. Enjoy the first of several installments...

Three Movies to See Right Now: Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire.
Three Movies That Didn't Live up to the Hype: Rachel Getting Married, Doubt, Milk.
Three Movies to Rent Right Now: In Bruges, The Dark Knight, The Visitor
Best Recurring Theme: Marisa Tomei going topless. This is the second consecutive year that Tomei has been nude in a movie that's absolutely great (Before the Devil Knows Your Dead and, this year, The Wrestler). Think of it two ways: Marisa Tomei being nude is saving American cinema! Also, isn't it refreshing to say a healthy, natural 43-year-old prance around instead of some Cinemax, surgically-enhanced tart? It's OK to grow old naturally, folks. Put the saline implants down!
Second-Best Recurring Theme: Action movies that don't suck my will to leave. Thanks to Christopher Nolan, Jon Favreau, and the folks at The Hulk. Sam Raimi, pay attention. This how you direct an action movie.
Best Performance in a Crappy Movie: Elizabeth Banks, Zach & Miri Make a Porno. Director/writer Kevin Smith and I grew up in the same area (Monmouth County), so maybe I keep seeing his stuff out of some local obligaton. But he hasn't made a great movie in years, and his latest attempt is a lazy, predictable romantic comedy with lots of T&A to replace the edge. The only human aspect of the movie is Banks' sweet performance as a woman who slowly and convincingly falls in love with her roommate/best friend (Rogen). It's a genuine, winning performance in a movie that doesn't deserve it.
The Please Stop Award: Please stop, Sean Penn. Stop acting like you're lifting a safe over your head...Also, please stop, Robert De Niro. It's OK to say no to a script every once in a while. Twenty years ago you would have thrown the script for What Just Happened in the trash. Now, you're starring in it? Ugh...
A DVD for the Pantheon: Sideways. It gets better with each and every viewing, as do the performances. How good an actor is Paul Giamatti? Every time I watch the movie, and I see another aspect of his Miles come to life. How did he not get nominated for an Academy Award that year? Plus, I never get tired of seeing M.C. Gainey and his flaccid penis. Good times.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's About Damn Time: The Jancee Dunn Interview

Here it is, in all of its unformatted glory...Enjoy!

Of course, the interview appeared in the December issue of ICON and is reprinted with permission.

The cool thing about the interview is that Trina, the editor, actually used my initials in the interview, instead of ICON. I thought that was a nice touch, like I'm David Frost or something.

Also, I'm amazed that what I sent Trina was used, all of it. If you get the issue on the stands, it looks something from The New Yorker. Lots of text and barely a picture or a dog cartoon to break up the sweet, sweet text.

By the way, another author interview is planned for ICON with an author who has written one of the best books of 2009. That's right, it hasn't even been published yet, but Brad Pitt has optioned it.

That's me...A real mover and shaker.

After Jancee Dunn's memoir, But Enough About Me, was released in 2006, fans wanted more.

Not about her days as an intrepid, frequently jittery staff writer at Rolling Stone (1989-2003), where she interviewed celebrities galore, but about her days growing up during the 1980s in Chatham, NJ.

Dunn, who was a veejay for MTV and a sex columnist for GQ, has responded to that demand with a terrific and critically acclaimed first novel, Don't You Forget About Me (Random House, $24.00).

In the book, recently divorced NYC thirtysomething Lillian Curtis moves back to her childhood New Jersey home (and with her parents) to regroup, and drifts back into her Rick Springfield-loving past. An imminent high school reunion and the return of her first love don't help matters.

Affable and disarming, even while preparing for a trip to London, Dunn, 42, chatted with ICON in June about the suburbs, the danger of delving into the past, and strip club buffets.

ICON: Your bio in Don't You Forget About Me says that you were "a chronically nervous" reporter while at Rolling Stone. Can we add chronically nervous novelist?

Jancee Dunn: Oh, yes, indeed. I'm nervous 24 hours a day; all the time. Now I'm nervous about failure and readings, 'cause last time I had a weirdo rush the stage when I did a reading in New York. He was scratching his back against the wall, never a good sign. And it's not like they have security at these things. I ain't Stephen King, right, so who's going to save me, my Dad? And he jumps up on the stage, but he was running past me to get to, I'm not kidding, the personal growth section. So, it's good that he kept going, but now I have a whole new set of paranoias pretty much.

But 'wah, wah' as they say in Jersey, right?

ICON: Why do you still feel nervous? After doing writing for some 20 years, I would think your fears would be in check at this point.

JD: My mom asks me the same question. I think it comes from a deep-seeded unease that started in college, when I went to a state school [The University of Delaware], performed in a spectacularly mediocre way and never graduated. I don't know. It may be that suburban Jersey chip that I have on my shoulder of never thinking that I've quite arrived. I had no connections, my Dad worked at JCPenney. I just never felt quite like I'm the inside. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe it fuels creativity, right?

ICON: Could be. Maybe it makes you work harder

JD: Never once, have I thought, "Ah, I've done it [laughs]." I guess it's this combo in me, I guess, of ambition, insecurity, an inability to fully relax. I don't know. I'm getting dark on ya. I have to go fun and upbeat [laughs].

ICON: How did your background as a journalist help you in writing a novel? Did it hinder you in any way?

JD: Being a magazine writer was a tremendous help in that I'm so used to not having much space, so I really have to pick telling details to set a scene rather than these long, florid descriptions and I'm also used to writing for readers with a short attention span. So, I really was cognizant of those [aspects]. In even the best novels, there are sort of those boring stretches, at least there are for me, and I'm used to saying, "Whoops, eyes on the page. Hey, back here," that I really tried to make my writing vibrant, which I'm trained to do for my magazine writing.

It hindered me in that it was a really odd thing to completely be my own boss. I'm so used to having 50 editors all over everything that I do, particularly with women's magazines, that it was really odd to think, "I guess this is OK." The odd thing about writing a novel also is that your editors are generally very hands off, and I had envisioned lots of check-ins and stuff, but they really just sort of trust you to go forward. And it was such an odd feeling, but liberating, too.

ICON: Were there any novels that you took for inspiration?

JD: I tried to follow the conventional advice to write a novel that you wish you could read. The older lady in there [Lillian's boss and friend, Vi] I wish that I knew her, so I dreamed her up. And it was the sort of book that I wished I could read in the summertime. I happen to love 80s details, and it was very fun to excavate them all. As for influences, I also follow other conventional advice, which is to read really good books and so I tend to read a lot of Dickens and novels like that which you can't even detect the tiniest hint of in my writing, but I hope in some kooky way that it filters in there somewhere. I don't know. I surround myself with writers that are way, way better than I am in the hopes that osmosis will do some work.

Prep [by Curtis Sittenfeld] is a perfect example…I don't think I moved when I read it. I think I took a whole weekend and just read it one big gulp, so something like that was definitely a big influence. I definitely liked how in Prep her protagonist wasn't someone that you embraced wholeheartedly and loved. It was really hard for me to have somebody who was really flawed because I'm used to trying to get people to like me, so I thought why not be brave like Curtis was and have someone that isn't necessarily 100% likeable.

ICON: I like that there are unanswered resolutions in your book; not everyone comes away clean.

JD: That's exactly what I wanted, and I fought against all the romantic comedies that I've ever seen in my life to tie up everything with a bow…I don't know anyone who didn't have a messy high school time, and it extends to adulthood.

ICON: In the book, Lillian goes deep into her high school past, sometimes with disastrous results. How much digging around of your high school past did you for this book, or just on your own?

JD: I did a fair amount. It was right there in front of me because not only did I have my own reunion, I keep in touch with a bunch of my friends from high school. And I also had a diary, or as I called it a journal, because when you're 16 that's what you call it. There was a scene from the book that did happen in my life, where I looked at my journal for the first time in 15 years or something. I was one of those freaks that had a great time in high school. Everyone makes fun of me because everyone I know was bullied or couldn't wait to leave. (Peppy voice) I had a great time. I looked at this diary [and] I thought maybe there's some good stuff in here.

My rose-colored memories of that time: what a shock. My diary was filled with hatred and pain. And seeing some of the things I went through as a kid with adult eyes and reading between the lines of, like, thuggish boys that I went out with and just seeing it all with adult eyes and how dark it really was, was a huge shock to me. So, that was a good research tool.

ICON: One of the book's themes is that some events and people in the past should remain there. Is there any part of the high school experience that you want locked away?

JD: There have been times when I've really gotten nostalgic and my sister Heather has said to me, "Let it go; keep it where it is. Don't go back there." Or I'll want to get in touch with a long-lost high school friend and my sister will say, "I can see the bio on this person and maybe you shouldn’t. It's going to disappoint you. Just leave her alone."

Recently, our house we grew up in Chatham in high school was up for sale, and my sister Heather and I called the realtor and we were going to pretend we had different names, just on the off chance that she might know my name, which is ridiculous and she wouldn’t. But we were going to take a tour and pretend that we were going to buy it. And we stopped ourselves at the last minute because it's like, "Quit trying to go back there, you can't." We cancelled on the poor realtor, which would have wasted her time. That's a good example of, "Just let it go, for Chrissakes."

ICON: As a reporter you're naturally curious, and with the Internet in general there must be a temptation to go deeper in exploring your high school days.

JD: The past is more tangible now than it ever has been before. It's radically different even than 10 years ago. You can track 90 percent of the people that have been in your life so easily. Especially as a reporter you can go even a little deeper, and you know a few tricks. It's just not healthy because at this point I have tracked so many different people that now I'm even at the people I didn't care about in the first place. And that's when you know you should just quit. Like some distant person in your science class that you worked with in 1991, who cares? It's bad, yeah.

ICON: Don't You Forget About Me has a lot of references to the 1980s, even the title. How aware were you to not blindly cash in on the endless wave of nostalgia for that decade and actually write a book with resonance?

JD: I was extremely conscious of that because I definitely loaded up on a lot of 80s details and I would think sometimes, "Am I going overboard? Am I pandering?" …I was definitely aware and I'm not sure if I succeeded. I think I may have gone a tiny bit overboard because I got so caught up. I used my friends and my family as helpers a lot, and we just threw it all in there. But I wonder if I go back and read it, if I’m ever that much of a loser that I sit and read my own books, if it might tweak me a little. It's a good point. I'm not really sure.

ICON: Do you feel like you had enough perspective to write a book like this?

JD: Seeing my diary and what the reality was, and how much my mind had softened over the years was a real jolt, so that gave me personal perspective. Cultural perspective, I can’t help but be nostalgic for the collective experience that we all had then…There was something really goofy about that time period that I’m attracted to, and it’s just funny how you get stuck in one era. I think there’s a danger in romanticizing any decade. It always drives me crazy when I hear when something was a more innocent time. I don’t think in human history there’s been an actual innocent time. That happens a lot with the 80s and I think, "Really, with everything that was going on politically." I want to be careful of that and want to be current. The one thing that appeals to me is the playfulness and the goofiness that I don’t see now. I think now it’s a little harder and a little more knowing.

ICON: I think the big difference is in the music.

JD: In that way, there really was some pure, silly, fun pop. It was so perfect for summer and driving around. I just don’t see it now. It all sounds like stripper music to me. I'm just old.

ICON: Then again, you had Motley Crüe.

JD: It’s still playing at a strip bar somewhere right now.

ICON: Sure, at 11:30 in the morning on a Saturday. I guess it’s like 5 o’clock somewhere, so someone must be drinking. Someone must be getting a lapdance.

JD: (Laughs) Checking out the steam table, with the chicken wings.

ICON: In your two books the theme of personal growth is pretty strong. How important is that for you? And do you think some people think that they can’t learn and grow in certain ways?

JD: I have a personal horror of being stuck, and because of my job I always have to take in a lot of information and I just have a natural curiosity and a kind of horror of being stuck in any way. I have very forward thinking parents that are always in motion, mentally and physically, the sort of parents that you just want to sit and read a book and they just can’t stand that you’re not doing something, so I’ve always been sort of in motion. I travel a lot, and Lord knows I work at Oprah magazine, so there’s a lot of self-examination and growth is their ethos. But I always have it in my head, how can I do better…That’s a huge theme of my life. I love that you said that. It makes it seem that I have more coherent plan than I actually do.

ICON: It’s sort of like sharks, when they stop moving, they die. Is that how you feel?

JD: Yes, completely. I just never understand people who aren’t excited about something or curious about something. This is the Pollyannish side of me coming out, but there are so many things to be excited about and there are so many different worlds to explore and books to read and places to go, I just can’t imagine being a different way. I think I’m never going to get do everything that I want to do. I’m packing to go to London; I just got back from Mexico and Japan. I just love having this kind of life, so my horror is getting stuck.

ICON: Throughout the novel, Lillian’s high school friends are settling down and having kids, like it’s a suburban requirement. You just turned 42, you’re married, and you have no kids. You mentioned in But Enough About Me that you never had maternal instincts. Is the pressure to have kids still a big presence in your life?

JD: It is. It sure does come up a lot. And I get a lot of pressure, funnily enough, from men who tell me how great parenthood is. I’m not against having kids, I guess, I’ve just always been doing other things and suddenly I turn around, and I’m 42. I can hardly believe it. I guess realistically time is running out for me, and my folks have stopped asking, which is a key signifier that maybe they’ve accepted that I might not. I’m not against it, but I guess I'm in a certain amount of denial about my age because I still am debating the idea with my husband [writer Tom Vanderbilt]. It’s like, "Look, babe, you’re 42. That ship may have sailed." I still can’t figure out why I was not really into having kids. I had a great childhood, I really did. My two sisters have kids, and they’re the nicest little kids…You know what it’s been like. It’s been like, "OK, I’m going to go on this trip to Japan and then I’m going to think about kids," or, "I’m going to write this book and then that’s it, I’m thinking about kids." So, something is clearly up where maybe I don’t necessarily want them so much.

ICON: The other prevalent theme in Don't You Forget About Me is the disconnect between people who live in the suburbs and people who live in city, especially people you've known a while. Why do you think that is?

JD: I see an understandable defensiveness from my friends in the suburbs that they think city people look down on them. And then I completely see the perspective from the suburbs of, “Why would you wear with yourself down with all that concrete and noise and hostility.” And so I really can absolutely see both sides. And, you know, the lure of the suburbs is so strong for me. I know I’m going to return there.

ICON: Really?

JD: I’m here [in Brooklyn] because of my job. I’m here because my editors need me at a moment’s notice sometimes to come into the office, and all the interviews I do take place in the city, and I’m constantly having to do something here in Manhattan. So, that’s why I live here, but oh do I love the suburbs. And I go back to see my folks every chance I get, and go to those nice big box stores. It drives me crazy when city people think there’s no character in the suburbs. There are all kinds of pockets of weirdness; I mean, read Weird NJ magazine. Everywhere you go there are pockets of character and weirdness that would sustain me just as much as the city does.

ICON: But creative types in the Jersey suburbs flee to the city. Do you think there’s some creative juice in the city that you can’t find in Chatham or Princeton?

JD: If you’re fueled by tension, as I am, then the city really does work as a good writing tool and I can only compare it to when I go on vacation. I went up to Vermont last year and stayed in the middle of the woods by a lake for two weeks, and my husband and I said, “Oh, we’re going to get a lot of writing done.” And our minds went blank and we didn’t write a word. So, I’m wondering if maybe the dose of hostility I get from one subway ride can kind of fuel me all day. There might be something in that.

You mentioned Princeton. I went there a few weeks ago and looked around thinking, “Ooh, I could live here.” So, I’m taking the steps. I think maybe you could replace the people bumping up against you all the time here and your irritation, which could then fuel a mean sense of humor, and instead channel it more positively. I hope you can get that creative tension anywhere, but I don’t know. What do you think?

ICON: I’ve never understood why people think of cities as being these creative factories, because it’s the person.

JD: It's true. The onus is on you to take it all in…If I couldn’t get going in a place other than New York City, then it is I who has failed.

ICON: How confident that you feel you can write from anywhere? If you moved back to Chatham today, could you write another book and your pieces for The New York Times and Oprah?

JD: Oh, sure. Especially now, it’s such a writer-friendly atmosphere. You can listen to your kooky radio stations that you like from anywhere and you can do Internet radio and there are tons of weird magazines coming in. We can completely be mobile anywhere. All the little things that you like are still here. And that’s the thing also: It’s not like I’m going to Broadway plays every night, I’m really not. I’m here in my apartment, so why shouldn’t I live anywhere else?

ICON: You’ve written a variety of things. What do you want to do next, and please don’t say another version of Marley & Me?

JD: (Laughs) I like the sales of Marley & Me. My dream is to keep writing books because it’s been the most gratifying experience of my whole life. I never thought it could be this fun, and the happiest moments of my entire life were when I was writing those two books when I could sit down in the morning and begin. It was just heaven, and if I could keep doing that, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. When I was a weird child of eight years old, I would dream about living in some cottage somewhere and just writing books all day and then taking country walks at night. This is when I was, like, eight. What was wrong with me, right?

If I could realize that dream, that would be it. Really, the magazine stuff isn’t as important. I mean, it’s really fulfilling and writing for the Times is lots of fun…But aside from that, it’s all about books. I swear to you, and this isn’t me just pandering to Random House. If they keep renewing my contract, I’d be the happiest person who ever lived.


The following appeared in the December issue of ICON and is reprinted with permission (thanks, Trina).

Can someone tell me why Sean Penn is getting Oscar talk? Frank Langella and Mickey Rourke should be pissed right now.

To my knowledge, the release of Gus Van Sant's Milk brings us the first gay historical epic. For those who have forgotten, Harvey Milk (1930-78) was the first openly gay man to hold a major political office in America.
The movie's release also shows that, more and more, gays are finding their way into the mainstream. So much so that a gay icon now gets an idealistic retrospective with an all-star cast. It's better than the alternatives: hot-button flicks like Philadelphia or stereotype-based comedies like In & Out and The Birdcage.
Despite Milk's significance, there's really no need to fork over $10 to see Sean Penn striving hard for another Academy Award, or to watch the movie try on storylines the way a love-crazy high school senior tries on prom dresses. The movie should be used as a springboard to learn more about Milk, and luckily there are two great resources--Randy Shilts' book, The Mayor of Castro Street, and Rob Epstein's documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk. Milk may be seen by more people, but it doesn't have half the impact of those earlier works.

In the newest effort, Milk (Penn), 40 years old and desperate for a change, moves from New York to San Francisco with boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco). Milk opens a camera store, but his reputation as an activist thrives more than his business. Soon, Castro Camera becomes a meeting place for politically-minded homosexuals looking for acceptance, with Milk leading the cause against the likes of Anita Bryant and unforgiving city policemen.

He campaigns tirelessly throughout the 1970s before being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. His rise comes at a cost. First, Scott, tired of Milk's desire to help everyone, leaves. Milk's next boyfriend, the needy Jack Lira (Diego Luna), doesn't go so quietly. On the professional front, Milk soon draws the ire of colleague Dan White (Josh Brolin).

Milk's accomplishments during his brief time as an elected official were staggering. He spearheaded the passing of a San Francisco ordinance that prevented citizens from being fired due to sexual orientation. He also rallied support against the passing of California's Proposition 6, which would have allowed schoolteachers to be fired for being gay.
Certainly, it's a memorable, important life, only Van Sant and writer Dustin Lance Black refuse to narrow their focus on Milk's life as a politician. We get a glossy overview that plays like a high-budget adaptation of an eighth grader's book report. Milk's relationship with White had life-altering consequences, but White's crumbling rapport (along with his crumbling sanity) is handled almost as an afterthought. We're introduced to Harvey's squadron of aides and volunteers, but their stories get lost in the race to chronicle every detail.
Milk's relationships with Scott and Jack bog down the film's political momentum, coming across as redundant attempts to humanize the man. After all, wasn't Milk's work based on establishing human rights? It's not like he was soullessly lobbying for sales tax reform or streets free of potholes. If Van Sant and Black had focused on one aspect of Milk's political career--the passionate fight against Proposition 6, his corrosive relationship with homophobe White and its tragic aftermath--the movie would have been a throbbing testament to civil rights. Instead, the movie goes big and broad, simultaneously caricaturing and minimizing Milk's political zeal.
Penn's performance doesn't shake the feeling that Milk is more about size and flash than substance. Penn used to vanish into a role. He became a jazz guitarist or a California pothead or a sleazy 1970s lawyer. In recent years, Penn has concentrated on delivering performances that have the subtlety of a shotgun blast. Consequently, you can't watch Milk without Penn's effort coming across as a threat: "You want me to play gay? By God, you'll get a ton of gay, pal."
Someone has to tell Penn that it's OK to underplay, so audiences know that he's playing a character and not further establishing a brand. But those are the consequences of the big, sweeping historical epic. You get big performances, big storylines; everything gets super-sized. In the case of Milk, bigger definitely isn't better.

December's Movie Round-Up

The following appeared in the December issue of ICON and is reprinted with permission (thanks, Trina).

In the latest edition of the Film Round-Up: Come watch three stalwarts of independent cinema fall short.

Che (Dir: Steven Soderbergh). Starring: Benicio Del Toro. Academy Award winners Soderbergh (sex, lies, and videotape; Traffic) and Del Toro reunite for an ambitious project--a four-hour plus biography of famed Argentine guerilla fighter Ernest "Che" Guevara. The movie is divided into two parts. Part one (The Argentine) deals with the exiled Guevara meeting Fidel Castro in Mexico and becoming a major contributor in capturing Cuba from Batista. Interspersed with Che's early days as a fighter are scenes of him visiting New York in the early 1960s, when he is now widely known for his inflammatory, revolutionary-minded speech. In part two (The Guerilla), Che vanishes from the mainstream, stealthily retreating to Bolivia to train and lead guerillas in a futile, and ultimately fatal, overthrow of the government there. The first part of the movie is the far more interesting of the two, defining Che as more than just an image printed on T-shirts worn by hipsters and graduate students. Midway through part two, as Che and his estranged soldiers wander aimlessly through the Bolivian jungle, it becomes apparent that the movie(s) don't have enough juice. There's not enough pageantry or real-life twists to justify the absurd length. Soderbergh has shown a deft, restrained touch in directing a wide variety of films (also on his Hall of Fame resume: King of the Hill, Out of Sight, and Ocean's 11) that were smart and entertaining. His subdued approach--even the action scenes are tame--doesn't work here, because an audience devoting so much time needs to be goosed, regardless of how prestigious the film's pedigree. Think The Godfather saga, Apocalypse Now, or even (though it pains me to say it) Titanic. It doesn't help that Peter Buchman's script feels like he's stretched four or five interesting facts beyond boredom, which in turn suffocates Del Toro's performance and prohibits any real chance for historical or personal insight. Considering the subject matter and talent involved, this is a major disappointment. Note: The full-length version will play for one week in New York and Los Angeles starting December 12, before re-opening in two parts January 9th, with roll outs nationwide to follow a week later. Eventually, the movie will be shown on-demand. R *

Synecdoche, New York (Dir: Charlie Kaufman). Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest. For his directorial debut, Kaufman, the acclaimed writer of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, offers a nearly incomprehensible and pretentious feat of endurance. As the life of a small-town theater director (Hoffman) unravels through the years--bouts with illness, two divorces, and the deaths of loved ones--he uses everything as a basis to put on an epic, life-mirroring play that destroys the line between fiction and fact. Kaufman's vivid, out there storytelling is often cited as an asset in his scripts when it's really used to dress up simple life lessons. In Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman runs the show, and he goes hog wild, offering a string of increasingly bizarre and pseudo-philosophical scenes that are supposed to wow the audience with their audacity. Instead, they obliterate whatever truths Kaufman wants to espouse on life, death, art, and (brace yourself) Hoffman's character's bloody stool. A great cast is wasted in this extended bout of creative masturbation. R *

Zach and Miri Make a Porno (Dir: Kevin Smith). Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords, Justin Long, Brandon Routh. With a mountain of unpaid bills and eviction imminent, two destitute best friends and roommates (Rogen, Banks) swallow their pride, push down their shame, and make a low-budget smut movie in the hopes of making some big cash. In the process, the duo makes some new friends with special talents (including former porn star Lords and current starlet Morgan) while their own friendship enters unfamiliar territory. Writer/director/New Jersey cinematic god Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy) once again reveals the soul of the working class, but the sarcastic, straightforward edge that cemented his reputation is absent. His latest movie is really a generic, poorly constructed love story (with an ending you can see coming from a mile away) garnished with liberal doses of nudity and salty language. Only Banks' charismatic, winning performance prevents the movie from being a complete waste of time. Not Smith's finest moment, but at least it's better than Jersey Girl. R *

Monday, December 15, 2008

Where's the Love (Actually)?

Sorry for the terrible headline. You would think that five-plus years of copyediting experience would yield a better one, but the coffee hasn't kicked in yet. What can you do?

The Daily News had an interesting column in its TV section a couple of weeks ago that tried to drum up support to make Love Actually a holiday movie staple, like It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. USA Network, which owns the rights to the movie, will show it exactly once before Xmas. However, Oxygen will show it twice on December 20.

I can't say that I disagree. I am a huge fan of Love Actually, Richard Curtis's 2003 romantic comedy that looks like at the romantic lives of a dozen Londoners around Christmas time. It's fun and funny and doesn't take itself too seriously or heap on the whimsy like whipped cream on a sundae. It's big and sprawling, but also very heartfelt and touching. In short, it's perfect for the holidays.

Some network needs to make it the centerpiece of its holiday season, the way TBS does with A Christmas Story or NBC does with It's a Wonderful Life. It's that good.

By the way, can Denis Leary's underrated early-90's gem, The Ref, also get some holiday love?

I'm Officially a Member of the Usual Gang of Idiots

Allow me to take time off from my usual babbling about Anne Hathaway or whatever. As you may or may not know, aside from babbling about movies, I'm also in the business of freelance writing. It's a frequently rewarding and frustrating business, not unlike dating or watching Charlie Kaufman movies.

However, one of the biggest professional thrills of my life occurred very recently when I was published in MAD. My parody of Guitar Hero is in the pages of the December issue.

Getting published there means a lot to me, only because I read the magazine as a kid and developed more of an appreciation when my brother writing there regularly in 1998. It's a terrific magazine with a rich history of contributors, and to have work published there is truly humbling. I kinda feel like the geek who just made out with the homecoming queen.

So, that's it. For the eight people who read this blog, I promise there will be more movie-related goodness to come--maybe even as soon as today.