Monday, May 31, 2010

An Important Realization

On a recent lazy Sunday morning, the girlfriend and I watched a little bit of "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!", the 2004 romantic comedy starring Kate Bosworth and Topher Grace. When I first saw the film, I was blown away by its big heart and well-defined characters. Consequently, it made my top 10 list for 2004.

Now that you're done laughing, here's where I partially realize the error of my ways. The film is preposterously cast. Kate Bosworth is very good in the lead role--a small-town supermarket clerk who wins a date with her favorite movie star, leading to a load of complications--but have you seen Bosworth? She looks like someone owhose sole purpose in life is to be a movie star (e.g. Megan Fox, Heather Graham). Putting Bosworth in a cashier's smock and jeans doesn't change that status.

The more practical solution would have been to put co-star Ginnifer Goodwin in the lead, a terrific actress who isn't preposterously good looking. Cast her and it's more realistic that Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) would fall in love with a small-town girl and her values. With Bosworth in the lead, those values are obscured by more carnal notions.

I'm still not going to apologize for liking "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" What I wrote for still stands. If that means I have to trade in my guy credentials, so be it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book of the Month for May

I love books. They're fun, educational, and ideal weapons for smashing bugs and similarly sized objects.

Sorry for the delay in blogging, but it's been a brutally busy stretch. There was Father's Day, a wedding weekend, and an insane amount of work to be done before going on vacation. Honestly, how come preparing for a vacation feels like preparing for final exams?

So, anyway, I'm just now getting back into the swing of things and I've stumbled into a world of death. Sad to hear about Dennis Hopper and Gary Coleman, huh? Hopper has a pretty storied career, but Coleman's life was just sad and sordid and included running for California's governor in 2004.

With that said, the book of the month is Hank Stuever's "Off Ramp," which includes a stunning profile about Coleman on the campaign trail. You can read the entire piece right here.

Read in peace. More stuff coming soon.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Which One of These Doesn't Belong?

This was at my hometown movie theater. I guess the logic is that if your kids loved "Night at the Museum" and "Madagascar" then they'll love Ben Stiller as an misanthropic, adolescent 40-year-old who's bad at oral sex.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Film Round-Up for May

In this edition of the Film Round-Up, let's hear it for the foxy older ladies...Aaah, yeah! Mary-Louise Parker, Laura Linney, and Demi Moore have prominent roles in just-released movies.

Too bad those movies range from unwatchable to boring.

The highlight of the month was getting to talk to burgeoning it girl Zoe Kazan, who stars in "The Exploding Girl." Other than, not so good, Al. My interview with Miss Kazan, age 26, should be up next month.

In the meantime, here's a still of an ewok getting plastered! Enjoy!

Again, these reviews were previously published in "ICON" and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Solitary Man (Dirs: Brian Koppelman and David Levien). Starring: Michael Douglas, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker, Susan Sarandon. After years plagued by professional scandal and bad personal decisions, once venerable car salesman Ben Kalmen (Douglas) is on the brink of getting back in the game—thanks to the powerful connections of his girlfriend (Parker). However, a runaway libido and a refusal to compromise keep Ben from escaping his rut while wreaking havoc on his family and himself. Douglas happily dusts off the creepy hustler role he's owned since Wall Street, but in-demand screenwriters Levien and Koppelman (Rounders, Oceans 13) cram too many plotlines and characters into their script, making us feel like we're always two scenes behind. Attempts to wax poetic on mortality and monogamy are undercut by the film's preposterous premise (is anyone else buying a one-time Forbes cover subject finding clarity as a deli worker?) and skittish attention span (Sarandon, Ben's ex-wife and moral compass, is barely around). Solitary Man mistakes activity for achievement. [R] *

The City of Your Final Destination (Dir: James Ivory). Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Omar Metwally, Alexandra Maria Lara. Hoping to write a career-salvaging autobiography of a deceased literary titan, a young American academic (Metwally) travels to the Uruguay countryside to get approval from his subject's surviving family. At first, the family (bitter widow Linney, gay brother Hopkins, and sexy paramour Gainsbourg) is taken aback by the young man's surprise visit to their rural estate. But the longer he stays, the more feelings he awakens in everyone. At least I think that's the point in this typically snoozy Merchant-Ivory production, which presents us with five boring main characters, gives them non-issues to agonize over, and paces the proceedings with the urgency and energy of a zoning board meeting. The only salvation—and it's not nearly enough—is Hopkins, who adds an ounce of cheeky fun to the high-end ennui. You know a movie is shaky when the talented Linney is rendered useless. Written by Ivory's long-time collaborator Ruth Jhabvala, who adapted from Peter Cameron's novel. [PG-13] *

The Joneses (Dir: Derrick Borte). Starring: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Glenne Headly, Lauren Hutton. A picture perfect "family" of salesmen moves into an affluent suburb with one goal in mind—to convince their unknowing neighbors to buy as many products (from cell phones to golf clubs) as possible. New hire Steve (Duchovny) has trouble dealing with his undeniable skill as a covert pitchman and an even harder time keeping things professional with his "wife" (Moore, still ageless), who is more concerned with impressing the higher-ups. Meanwhile, the "kids" (Heard, Hollingsworth) pick the wrong time to express their sexuality in a non-commercial way. Satire is written all over The Joneses, but writer/director Borte never gets dark and nasty with the material, instead settling for romantic yearning and teen confusion. In other words, the movie soon becomes every other family drama you've ever seen. Duchovny, whose cool skepticism is perfect for the lead role, and the forever-reliable Cole, as Steve's gullible new friend/mark, steer the movie away from total blandness. [R] **

The Exploding Girl (Dir: Bradley Rust Gray). Starring: Zoe Kazan, Mark Rendall. An epileptic college student (Kazan, in her first starring role) returns home to New York City for spring break desperate to hear from her boyfriend. As she mopes around town and waits for the phone to ring, she ignores the possibilities offered by her longtime best friend (Rendall), who spends the break at her apartment. Extremely low-key character study borders on unobtrusive, and occasionally lapses into drowsiness, but that prevents the movie from becoming an Eastern version of Beverly Hills 90210. Writer/producer/director Gray effectively shows how burdensome young love is when there's nothing but idle time, and Kazan (Me and Orson Welles) not only looks the part, she nails the self-loathing and self-denial of a mindset convinced that everything hinges on a call from a boy. Not a movie to raise your pulse rate, but the two characters and their issues ring true throughout. [NR] ***

Review of Please Give

Here's one of the year's best movies from one of the most overlooked directors out there.

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

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money) is killing me. I want her to make more movies, but her glacial pace—typical gap between efforts: four years—forbids that. I want her to become as big as Kathyrn Bigelow, but creating finely crafted profiles of women and their quiet struggles usually don't find a wide audience. That goes double if these movies have no easy answers.

I'd look the other way if Holofcener directed some female-empowerment mainstream hooey like Mona Lisa Smile or whatever garbage Jennifer Lopez agrees to do next, so she could get some exposure. But over the course of 14 years, Holofcener hasn't done that. It's doubtful she'll start now, especially since that approach has yielded the beautiful and perfectly understated Please Give.

The action centers on two neighboring apartments in New York City, both owned by Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt). The married couple resides in one, which is spacious and luxurious but incomplete because their elderly tenant, Andra (Ann Guilbert), refuses to die. The couple is inconvenienced, but Andra's granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet), are in a rougher spot. Andra is the women's surviving family, but she's a bitter handful. It's a family tie that's strangling Rebecca—who heads to the apartment every day after work to help an ungrateful Andra—of any youthful energy. She's a perpetual moping machine. Call it callousness or common sense, but Mary spends as little time with Andra as possible.

Outside their apartment, Kate and Alex make a nice living selling vintage furniture, often buying pieces from the deceased owners' children. This is not an ideal job for those with a shaky conscience, so Kate is driven to repent. She gives money to any homeless person she encounters, which drives her teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) nuts. After the landlords host a birthday party for their tenant and her family, Alex and Abby are exposed to Mary. Abby sees the brash and pretty spa employee as a role model who can improve her complexion. Alex, who's a smidge juvenile himself, finds the younger Mary—who looks like her spare time is spent on a treadmill or inside a tanning booth—an attractive option over Kate's kindness and self-flagellation.

Kate isn't a fan of either sister. She finds Rebecca surly, but there's a reason for that: Being charitable is an extraordinary, even poisonous pursuit, which would explain Rebecca's defeated demeanor. Kate can't make that commitment. She gleefully hands out money to hobos, but she's a lot less compassionate with her self-conscious daughter. Hell, Kate is 10 feet away from a virtual shut-in she could lavish with attention. Please Give is full of these human hiccups, and the great joy is how Holofcener strings together life's little aggravations, interactions, and character flaws to create a profound film.

A few examples: Rebecca looks forlornly from her grandmother's window to see a group of contemporaries laughing, drinking beers. Andra on why she never had many friends, thus explaining her life's sorry state: "I was very selective…People were jealous of me—I was smart." While exploring volunteer work at an old-age home, Kate expresses so much concern and pity that she's reminded by the host to stay upbeat; her experience visiting mentally handicapped children ends with uncontrollable sobbing. Mary, looking to maintain a well-manicured upper hand, obliterates Andra's belief that her eyes, feet, and knees will improve: "Things get worse, not better."

It takes good actors to convey every emotional ripple, and Holofcener's cast does, especially Hall and her permanent leading lady Keener. Keener giving a sterling performance is as big a surprise as the sun rising. But Hall (Frost/Nixon, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) shows us something new, muting her graceful features and model-like carriage to portray a woman on the verge of becoming permanently hardened. It's heart-warming watching her remember how to smile.

That qualifies as a big deal in Holofcener's world, but that it hits home shows just how good she is at chronicling the little moments that make up a big part of our lives. Maybe her pokey pace prevents her from being at the forefront of American film, but Holofcener is building a remarkable, enduring body of work about us. Please Give is her defining moment because we recognize so much of it. [R]