Sunday, August 23, 2009

Please Read

My interview with filmmaker Adam Scorgie (The Union: The Business Behind Getting High) is up at You can link to it right here. The review is also up on if you want to mosey over there.


Problem Solved

It's been a few days since I filed my film reviews for ICON, and it's only just now that I realized why I hated The Time Traveler's Wife so much while Julie & Julia was such a gem.

In the latter film, director/writer Nora Ephron took great pains to establish the human side of her characters. Ephron's problem over the years is that she's been so love in with a concept that'she's completely forgotten about people...Julie & Julia is the first movie from her in nearly two decades where her main characters are people you care about, who you root for.

Also, Amy Adams is good, while Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci are terrific.

All too often the people who make romance-flavored films think that offering visual and audio cues will be enough to grab our attention. (Ephron did this for years; Made of Honor was the worst movie of 2008 for that very reason. God, that was a demeaning, demoralizing affair.) That's the reason why The Time Traveler's Wife fails from the start, because all we get our prompts--star-crossed lovers, death, miscarriages, somber speeches about commitment, cute children--without a reason to care. That makes for a good trailer but a terrible movie.

Also, Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana have the chemistry of a couple on an awkward first date at Hoolihan's. The only way it could have been worse was if McAdams kept looking at her watch, repeatedly reminding him that she has to be home by 10. Or if he flirted with their 17-year-old waitress the entire time.

Actually, that's a scene from a movie I'd watch. You think we can get them to reunite?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who Would Play Me?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Julie & Julia, which I quite liked. I go into more detail in my main review for ICON, but two things: Meryl Streep is amazing, and if Stanley Tucci doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I'll be royally pissed. He matches Streep scene for scene.

The one thing about the movie, and I could be wrong, but I think it's the first one I've seen that really promotes blogging. Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who's the "Julie" in the film's title, give her life a jump start when she spent a year writing a blog about making all the recipes in Julia Child's cookbook.

That got me thinking: I run a blog, so it's completely fathomable that my life could be the basis of a feature film. In casting me, I'm sure they'd go the sensitive hunky guy route--John Krasinksi, Chris Messina, John Cusack--because film critic parts don't go to Clive Owen and Gerard Butler. Looking back the best we got was George Sanders, and he was a manipulative douche.

I figure I'd save everyone the trouble. With my build and increasingly bushy beard, I've found someone who's perfect for the role...

Garth Hudson from The Band.

Or, if you want to appeal to the African-American community, the late Cornelius Bumpus.

Yup, I just created a license to print money. "This summer from Paramount Pictures, organ legend Garth Hudson and Anne Hathaway star in the romantic comedy, Critical Sass!"

And the Verdict Is...

The Time Traveler's Wife was lousy. I can't believe I wasted two hours of sunshine and $6.00 on this crap. It moved with the grace of a docked ocean liner.

Try using that blurb, publicity goons!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Trailers and Music...The Next Frontier

Have you guys seen the previews for The Time Traveler's Wife? I've been to the multiplex three times in the last week, and I saw the trailer once, and the movie's music video once. Both times Lifehouse's "Broken" was featured.

It the kind of song that's featured on a high-strung 16-year-old's mix tape. It could be listened during a break up or during a backseat make-out session, and it sounds like every other song played during the trailer for one of these tender, life-altering romantic movies. It's like the movie wants to be generic, lumped in with the likes of The Lake House.

(Full disclosure: For some reason, I'm intrigued about this movie. I know it's probably going to be terrible, but I really like Rachel McAdams, and I'm baffled about why her character would marry a time traveler. I'd like to think at some point common sense and alleviating misery trumps love, but what the hell do I know.

Still, I know there are a legion of people who'd rather dive into a pool of glass than watch this thing. I'm writing this for them.)

This got me thinking: I'd love to see the trailer people go the complete direction music-wise. Wouldn't it be awesome if TTW featured "Poker Face" by Lady GaGa? What about an avant-guarde jazz track to accompany Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams kissing? Or an extended Hammond organ solo?

The thing is, I'm completely convinced the people who like these movies will see them regardless of what's playing, so why not shake things up? Give the guys who are forced to take girlfriends to these movies something to hope for? "Time Traveler's Wife? Yeah, I'd see that. I'm curious how "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee" ties into the movie." The same theory applies to blockbuster action movies. Let's have Sarah McLachlan handle lead track duties for Michael Bay's next ode to wasteful spending.

If anything, it'd get that damn Lifehouse song out of my head. "I'm falling apart. I'm barely breathing."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review of Big Fan

This review previously appeared in ICON, and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Suprisingly good movie, here, folks. If you liked The Wrestler, this is right up your alley.

Two of my longtime passions are sports and film, but my fanaticism is served with a chaser of reality. I'm only concerned with the entertainment presented in front of me.
I have no desire to meet Kate Winslet or LeBron James in a social setting. What would we possibly have in common? Idolatry is shaky grounds for friendship, and both are so PR-savvy that I'd be lucky to get either of them to speak beyond platitudes.

That skepticism is an unknown concept for Paul Aufiero, a die-hard New York Giants fan to the point that following the game isn't a vacation, but a permanent home complete with team jerseys, hats, and cell phone holders. That kind of fandom is usually played for laughs (see, or rather endure, 2005's Fever Pitch), but director/writer Robert Siegel examines a darker, more compelling angle in Big Fan.

Paul (Patton Oswalt) clearly needs something to distract him from his sad regular life as a garage attendant. In his mid-thirties. Who lives at home with his disappointed mom (Marcia Jean Kurtz). In Staten Island. But as a fan, it's different. He spends his nights at the garage polishing rants to a late-night sports radio show, where no one talks back and where the host always appreciates the passion of "Paul from Staten Island." And he's not alone. During some Sundays in the football season, Paul and his best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) trek to Giants Stadium, walking among the tailgaters before watching the game on TV in the parking lot.

The season is progressing nicely, when Paul spots his favorite player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), across the street filling up his tank. Paul and Sal follow Bishop and his entourage to a posh Manhattan strip club. Clearly out of their element--Paul is amazed at the city traffic and the club's $9 Buds--they study Bishop while refusing lapdances.

Paul finally summons the confidence to approach Bishop, who is friendly at first. But when the friendly fan unveils his stalker tendencies, Bishop attacks Paul, who awakens three days later in the hospital. (One of the first questions out of Paul's mouth is about the team's past game: "How did we do?") Because of the incident, Bishop is suspended, and Paul feels the heat. The police are investigating and want him to talk, while his slimy attorney brother (Gino Cafarelli) urges Paul to sue. And without Bishop, the Giants begin losing. Even worse, Paul's call-in nemesis, Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport), reveals Paul's identity on the air.

In his directorial debut, Siegel (who wrote The Wrestler) again looks at the losing side of sports, focusing on Paul and his changed life. It's an unsettling, memorable profile. Sports were a passionate respite until Paul blended them by approaching Bishop. Now, Paul's safe haven is under attack by others--the cops, the press, his litigious brother, his fed-up mother. What was his salvation has become the bane of his existence. As the movie progresses, Paul damn near loses his mind as he loses the balance in his life. All Paul wants is for Bishop to play, while once again being part of the maddening, anonymous crowd. Only a desperate act--involving a trip to the enemy territory of Philadelphia--will make things right.

Like he did in The Wrestler, Siegel offers an array of clues on his main character's shabby state, and why a life change is out of the question. Paul still sleeps with a football blanket that's clearly from childhood. His reaction to New York traffic shows that Paul has little curiosity to wander outside his front lawn. And what sports fan still relies on newspapers? Anyone who loves sports knows that the Internet has become essential for information and gossip. Paul doesn't even have Internet access, which would certainly help with his nighttime masturbatory routine.

With his short, pudgy physique and gnomish face, Oswalt looks like a guy who has forever gotten the short end of the stick. On the surface, his work as Paul resembles his benign stint on the long-running sitcom, The King of Queens. But the actor/comedian finds a different level, surprising us with his intensity and despair. You're so thoroughly convinced of Paul's zealotry, and you're hooked as it morphs into a disturbing, troubling form of self-denial. The supporting roles are impeccably cast, with an emphasis on rough-around-the-edges authenticity. Corrigan is a hoot as Paul's doltish friend, as is Rapaport, who has played yammering meatballs like Philadelphia Phil for years.

After The Wrestler, some might say that Big Fan is an easy follow-up for Siegel, another attempt to profile the forgotten and unwanted of the sports world. Yes, they're easy targets, but Siegel shows them as people without resorting to cheap laughs or parody. Everything feels painfully true in Big Fan, which is about a guy hopelessly lost in his religion. Does it really matter if it involves replica NFL jerseys and face paint? [R]

Film Round-Up for August

In this edition of THE FILM ROUND-UP: One of our favorites (Jeff Daniels) is good in a bad movie; a grown-up Anna Chlumsky turns up in a funny political satire; and two docs--one religious-minded and one TV-minded. (These reviews were previously published in ICON and are reprinted with permission. Thanks, Trina.)

Lots going on, so you may not see me for a while. Lots of assignments to keep me busy (that's good, I think), but I will throw in a couple of posts as well as a few links to kick-ass interviews. (Cross your fingers...)
See, I still like you. We're still cool.

The Answer Man (Dir: John Hindman). Starring: Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Kat Dennings, Olivia Thirlby, Nora Dunn, Tony Hale. Twenty years ago, Arlen Faber (Daniels) wrote Me and God, a Q&A with the Big Man himself that gave spiritual guidance to millions. The author isn't one of them. Bitter and lost, Faber has become a recluse, albeit one with a fantastic Philadelphia apartment. When his back goes out, Faber drags himself to a struggling chiropractor (Graham), who rehabs his vertebrae and wayward life. Former ICON cover boy Daniels is terrific as usual, with debut director Hindman giving him lots of juicy dialogue. It's too bad that his script's foundation is shaky, failing to fill us in on how Faber became such a misanthrope or how Graham's character civilizes him. The movie is clearly a showcase for Daniels to be lovably acerbic (a la Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets), but Hindman's quest to do so jeopardizes the movie's tone and even goes against logic. Subplot about a recovering alcoholic who runs the local bookstore (Pucci) is a poorly disguised ploy to generate warm and fuzzies, ditto Daniels' scenes with Graham's adorable, abandoned son. Hindman's attempt to mix breeziness with life lessons is sometimes amusing, but mostly the movie is awkward and clunky. R *

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (Dir: Aviva Kempner). In the 1930s, Gertrude Berg was Oprah. She created, starred in, and wrote the hugely popular radio program, The Goldbergs, with her New York City matriarch Molly Goldberg providing "a new image for Jewish mothers." When the program ended, Berg hustled, turning it into a television show that became the model for the sitcom. She also won a Tony (A Majority of One), had a line of housedresses, and wrote an advice column. Berg even wrote a cookbook, even though she was an awful cook. Simply put, she was an inspiration for Jewish families across the nation. The documentary oftentimes plays like a promotional piece, with lots of glowing compliments but very little conflict or shades of grey (except for the unfortunate fate of her blacklisted TV co-star, Philip Loeb). Still, thanks to TV/audio footage and interviews with relatives, colleagues, and fans such as Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kempner produces a rich portrait of a long-forgotten talent who had a staggering cultural relevance. NR **

In the Loop (Dir: Armando Iannucci). Starring: Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi, Mimi Kennedy, Anna Chlumsky, James Gandolfini, David Rasche, Steve Coogan. A daft British government official's (Hollander) offhand comment about U.S. war in the Middle East being "unforeseeable" kicks off a chain of events that have legitimate worldwide complications, spurred primarily by his new adviser (Addison) and a neurotic, struggling U.S. official (Kennedy) who desperately wants in with the war committee. Frenetic, wicked political satire features terrific, layered performances (especially Capaldi as the profane, bullying director of communications for the British Prime Minister) and it paints a convincing picture of how spin and ego drive political survival. If In the Loop has any problem it's that Iannucci and company are too ambitious--a foray into local politics featuring Coogan feels forced, dragging the proceedings further into farcical absurdity--and several years too late. Amidst the glut of political satires released in recent years, In the Loop is still relevant and compelling and funny. And, yes, that's a grown-up Chlumsky of My Girl fame playing Kennedy's whip-smart intern. NR ***

Unmistaken Child (Dir: Nati Baratz). After the respected Tibetan master Lama Konchog died in 2001, his disciple, Tenzin Zopa, embarked on the unenviable, arduous task of finding the great man's reincarnation. There were few concrete clues to follow, lots of walking, and innumerable dead ends. Finally, in 2005, Tenzin found his master's replacement--a chubby infant. There's plenty to like here in this documentary. Tenzin is an inspiring protagonist, a young man whose faith both carries him above his self-doubt and remorse while bonding him to lifelong subservience. Baratz's hands-off filmmaking style lets you make decisions on a form of worship not understood by many, and the accompanying cinematography is breathtaking. However, those assets are compromised by a story in desperate need of a narrator to explain the cultural and religious wrinkles, and a gnawing feeling that the events could have been profiled in 60 minutes instead of 100. Unmistaken Child is enlightening and educational; too bad its thoughtfulness often lapses into sleepiness. NR **