Monday, October 25, 2010

Minka Kelly is (Place Adjective Here)

I forgot why I don't watch shows like "Access Hollywood," "Inside Edition," or other shows that cover the entertainment industry until a few days ago.

The fiancee and I were flipping through the channels, and we landed on "Inside Editon's" piece on Minka Kelly being named Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive.

(For those who don't know, Minka Kelly was in the last scene of "(500) Days of Summer." Before that, she starred on TV's "Friday Night Lights." She's dating Derek Jeter. She's very attractive, so this annoucement was not shocking or newsworthy except that she's not a household name. Then again, it's not like the head cashier at the local Safeway won.)

As you might have guessed, it wasn't an exhaustively researched segment, but what was so obnoxious was that it consisted only of photos and a narrator describing the photos. For example:

"In this shot, Kelly writhes on a satin sheets wearing black lingerie..."

Really? That's what you're offering me. Granted, I don't think anyone watches these shows for ferocious reporting, but can't the writers do more than describe what everyone can see? The photos spell everything out: Yes, she's in black lingerie. She's on a bed.

This leads me to three conclusions:

1.) "Inside Editon's" producers are real sticklers for accuracy and confirmation. I can imagine some hardened Lou Grant type bellowing to a frightened staff: "ET and Extra may beat us on the ratings, but damn it, I'm not losing the facts race. I want IE to be the entertainment show of record, that gets things right the first time!"

2.) Much research was conducted and one of "Inside Edition's" key demographics are blind masturbators and trapped coal miners who can pick up audio.

3.) The writers didn't know who the hell Minka Kelly was and just wrote about the pretty photos.

So, yeah, I won't be watching entertainment news shows anytime soon.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Benefits of Moving In? Paul Giamatti Joins You

As you know, I recently moved in with my fiancee. It's been terrific so far, but one of the benefits is that we merged DVD collections. Because our tastes align more than depart, I've acquired some nifty titles. Here's what I like.

1.) "American Splendor": A gem of a character study; one of those movies that gets better 3 percent after every viewing.

2.) "Cinderella Man": The most underrated sports movie of the last 15 years. The story is amazing and so is Russell Crowe. Is there anyone who directs movies for the masses better than Ron Howard?

(The fiancee is a big Paul Giamatti fan. Believe it or not, I once dated a girl who was a big Dane Cook fan and owned his movies on DVD. Hard to believe that didn't last, huh?)

3.) "Legally Blonde": If you ever want to see an example of a performance elevating a film, it's Reese Witherspoon's here. And the story is smarter and funnier than you think.

4.) "Waiting for Guffman" and "This is Spinal Tap": How does she own these and I don't?

But there is some bad news. She brought the following with her:

1.)"Something's Gotta Give": With the exception of "The Holiday," I detest Nancy Meyers as a filmmaker.

2.) "As Good as It Gets": A gooball from the James L. Brooks "don't forget your handkerchief" manipulation factory. I'm pretty sure Meyers interned there.

3.) "School of Rock": Never did much for me, even though I like everyone involved.

As long as those movies don't interrupt my nightly viewings of "Shattered Glass," we should make it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For the Drunk in All of Us...

So, I'm confused. Is this the bubbly comedy with Kristen Bell and Jamie Lee Curtis or some young auteur's attempt to direct his generation's "The Lost Weekend"?

Out of all the photos in this series, this is the first one I can recall where the butchering leads to a title that sounds like a vast improvement over what is playing. I would bolt to the theater to see "You, A Gin," (which would probably resemble the last 20 minutes of "Pollack" or be a bitterly funny romantic comedy penned by Richard Curtis). As for watching Betty White playing her variation of the hip Grandma, I'm not on board.

Three other observations:

1.) How did Betty White become America's most beloved senior citizen? Was there one performance that did it? Did a group of college students--high on hearty laughs from "Golden Girls" reruns--draw up a petition? I like her--and she seems super nice--but her sudden mass appeal is a little disorienting.

Outside of my parents, Philip Roth is my favorite senior citizen. He should be trading barbs in benign female-friendly comedies, damnit!

2.) Over the last month, I've seen Kristen Bell on more magazine covers than a bar code. I'm pretty sure she was on the cover of "The Economist."

3.) OK, so are all the movies PG-13? That's not me being snarky It's a legitimate question.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A True Story

I was at JC Penney with the fiancee yesterday afternoon, where she spent the better part of an hour trying on outfits and I stood awkwardly in the junior Miss department. Just to clarify: I'm not marrying a 15-year-old; it's just that the fiancee feels that younger clothes are more flattering and more fashionable.

She's right. The way most department stores are organized, women either dress like Miley Cyrus or Betty White. There's no in-between.

As I milled around the store on my own, passing 16-year-old girls and feeling out of place, I had a movie-related flashback. When I wrote primarily for, I had a full-time job that made traveling for screenings impossible, I usually reviewed garbage like "An American Haunting" and "Anacondas" on the day they were released. One movie I reviewed was "Just My Luck," a Lindsay Lohan vehicle that came out when she was still kind of a big deal. That meant the audience was brimming with teenage girls.

Teenage girls and me--a companionless 28-year-old with a notepad and scruffy beard.

As I settled in, I noticed a funny thing. Not a single person was sitting anywhere near me. My whole row was practically empty. No one was in front of me. Or behind me. I soon noticed that there was no one within five seats of me.

So that means that these girls took one look at the bearded weirdo with the notepad, assumed that my pockets were stuffed with cholorform-soaked rags and that my windowless van was running in the parking lot, and thought I was destined to appear on "To Catch a Preadator."

Can't say I blame them for feeling that way, especially since they had no idea why I was there. The good news is that I got to enjoy the movie in peace, which rarely happens with a movie theatre packed with teenagers. The bad news is that "Just My Luck" was awful.

The trip to JCP was better. "Jerry McGuire" was on in the dressing room area. No one gave me dirty looks for watching that.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book of the Month for October

I love books. They're fun, educational, and, if you collect lots and lots of them, you get a vigorous workout any time you move.

The other nice part about the move is that I got the chance to reexamine what was in my personal library. A lot of stuff got tossed, but there were some books that caught my attention upon second glance.

One of those was Rick Lyman's "Watching Movies," his collection of columns from The New York Times. The concept was very simple. Lyman would visit his subject at work or home to watch his or her favorite movie. For example, Woody Allen watched "Shane" (a puzzling selection), Ron Howard chose "The Graduate." The subject then talked about the movie--how it influenced them, why scenes are meaningful--as the movie runs.

It's a terrific book for two reasons. Lyman leaves himself out of the narrative and lets his subjects speak. Quotes dominate, but all are useful. The sources bring up nugget after nugget.

The book also puts a face on the glossy business. Directors, actors, screenwriters came to their careers somehow, and chances are a movie or two inspired them to follow that path. Steven Soderbergh, Julianne Moore, and everyone else weren't plucked from the cosmos and put into some kind of movie academy. They were blown away, just like everyone else, and wanted to recapture that pleasure. In that way, critics and movie people aren't that different.

I doubt Soderbergh would want to split a meat lover's pie with me at Pennington Pizza, but you get the idea.

Read in peace.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Todd Solondz Interview

This was a tough interview for a couple of reasons, which are outlined in the introduction. However, to prepare for the Q&A, I watched "Palindromes" and "Storytelling" over the course of a weekend. Though Solondz is a creative, adventurous filmmaker, you shouldn't cram his movies in like you're watching a "Three Stooges" marathon.

But I digress. It turned out to be a lot of fun. Sorry for the lack of formatting right now. This thing clocks in at around 3,000 words. I'm going to save the italicizing and bolding for another time. Just enjoy.

This interview originally appeared in "ICON" and is reprinted with permission.

I was a bit apprehensive to meet Todd Solondz, despite the publicist's assurances that he was a talkative delight. I've spent the last 31 years happily living in the New Jersey suburbs. Solondz, a Jersey native turned devout New Yorker, has made his reputation as a writer and director (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) by holding up a fun house mirror to those same suburbs, showcasing its hypocrisy and bitterness. His movies are alternately hilarious and shocking and heartbreaking and insightful, but always poker-faced. You remember a Todd Solondz movie, even if you're not quire sure what you've seen.

Solondz's latest, Life During Wartime, is a haunting, moral gut check. His first movie in five years, it's a sequel of sorts to Happiness—it's set 10 years after the bizarre events that befell the Jordan family—but the characters are now played by different actors.

Joy (Shirley Henderson), still meek and clueless, sabotages herself by embracing the misery of others, including her long-dead boyfriend (Paul Reubens); sister Trish (Allison Janney), still reeling from her ex-husband's pedophilia, has relocated to Florida and has fallen for a relentlessly average man (Michael Lerner), which makes her younger son (Dylan Riley Snyder) wary; Trish's tortured ex, Bill Maplewood (Ciarán Hinds), leaves prison hoping to settle the past with his oldest child (Chris Marquette). The third Jordan sister, Helen (Ally Sheedy), is adrift in Hollywood. The movie isn't as in-your-face as Happiness—no money shots, no adults masturbating to teen magazines—but it's a sobering examination of how the past manages to poison the future.

You can see why I was a bit nervous to talk to Solondz. Intense filmmaker. Holds disdain for the place I live. And the publicist says he's been doing interviews all day. Awesome.

Five minutes after meeting Solondz, who's dressed in an aquamarine button-down shirt, turquoise Chuck Taylor sneakers, and his trademark thick glasses, and it's clear my fears were unfounded. Solondz, who was in Philadelphia in late July to promote Life During Wartime, was chatty and dryly funny during our 25-minute interview.

Pete Croatto: It's been about five years since we last saw you. What have you been doing since Palindromes?

Todd Solondz: I would have finished this movie a few years ago had the financing not come together and fallen apart several times. That's why it took so long. But I'm a full-time teacher now at NYU and their graduate school, and I have a lot of fun doing that. I'd rather do that than, I suppose, directing episodes of television. Not that there's not good stuff on TV, I'm just not interested, any more than I'm in a lot of the scripts that are out there. I look at the script, and it's not such a terrible script; it could make $100 million. I'm just not interested…It [filming a script that isn't my own] hasn't happened yet, but I confess I don't spend too much time looking for it. I prioritize my own material. I'm shooting something this fall, so maybe it'll even out. I've been shooting every three years: you write, you shoot, you recover…It's a three-year plan. This one I'm shooting, maybe it'll even out because it took so long to get the last one completed.

PC: That brings me to Life During Wartime. What made you decide to revisit the characters from Happiness, especially 12 years after that movie was first released?

TS: When I finished Happiness I never imagined I would ever revisit the characters or the stories from that movie, but it just shows that my imagination wasn't so fertile because about 10 years later, I guess, I wrote the script, believe me not as a career move. I don't know. I just wrote the first scene, and I liked what I wrote and I think the idea of recasting the movie made it all very interesting for me.

PC: With the new cast was there ever a time when you were directing a scene, let's say with Allison Janney, and said, "That's not how Cynthia Stevenson would have done it"? Was it hard to avoid comparing the actors in this movie to the previous actors?

TS: No, because I wasn't comparing. I didn't tell any of the actors to reference or mimic. The aim was not to replicate, but creating a new work with its own life. And it's different; it's got a different life. I loved Dylan Baker [who portrayed Bill Maplewood in Happiness], but I wanted an actor with gravitas and weight, a kind of dead man walking, ghost-like, spent, shell, a husk of a soul that Ciarán seemed to embody. I couldn't achieve that with Dylan in the same way—he's a different kind of actor. Paul Reubens is very funny like Jon Lovitz, but has a whole history that the audience is aware of that lends an extra layer of pathos and poignancy as part of his performance. And I think it's always nice to show people a side of an actor like Paul Reubens that no one I think imagined he had within him to perform, and there's probably also a playful part of me that wishes to imagine a character who probably has a Pee Wee Herman doll at home.

But I didn't want to evoke Phil Hoffman. I wanted to have something completely different, and when Michael Kenneth Williams came in to read for me…I hadn't known The Wire at the time. I mean he's an astonishing actor, very powerful. So I just retooled it to suit his qualities. He said to me, "I'm not funny." And I said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it."

PC: You mentioned with Ciarán Hinds's role about he looks worn out and hollow, and that's one thing I noticed about his character and everyone else in that movie. I mean this as complimentary, but everyone looks tired, worn out, that they've been through a lifetime of miseries. They have in a certain way…

TS: [interrupting] Post-traumatic stress disorder genre.

PC: You're not going to find that at Blockbuster, I guess.

TS: I don't know if this will be in the same group as Casualties of War.

PC: That tone in Life During Wartime, is that a reflection of these characters going through these horrific events from 10 years ago, or is it also maybe you getting a little bit older, a little bit mellower? Because compared to let's say, Happiness and Palindromes, this isn't as intense material.

TS: If we had a sought a rating I don't think we would have had trouble getting the R this time. But I don't know, it's possible you're right. I don't know. It's hard for me to say how I've changed as an older person, but of course however I've evolved is reflected in what I do…The movie takes on its own life and I just discover that in the process. It's not a calculated thing. It evolves that way.

PC: In an interview with The Believer from several years ago, you said that whenever you have a new movie coming out, you feel a certain amount of trepidation—I believe the word "shaming" was used—that your baby is out there for the world to see. Do you feel that way with this movie? Are you nervous about the reaction?

TS: Well, certainly at this point I'm not nervous. It's out there. But you're very protective of what you do. These days because of the Internet I never do a test screening, so I didn't test it out on anybody. It's like any filmmaker I suppose feels what he does is very precious to him, and you feel in some way exposed and vulnerable. But I'm happy with the movie; I'm happy with all these movies I've been fortunate to make. I think I only semi-flippantly said that my two aims when I make a movie are 1.) To survive it; and 2.) Not to be embarrassed.

(Note: Though many are familiar with Solondz's work starting with 1995's Welcome to the Dollhouse, he actually directed his first feature in 1989. On, he calls the making of Fear, Anxiety and Depression "not a happy experience" and the final product "a disappointment." Solondz told Sigrid Nunez, who interviewed him for The Believer, “I’m asking you, as my friend, don’t rent it, don’t try to see it.”)

PC: Forgiveness is a big part of Life During Wartime, but one thing about the movie that I noticed is that it's about people who can't change their lot in life. Am I off target?

TS: Probably not. That's something of a thread in my work—the intractability of our identities, I suppose. I think that people, Americans in particular, are used to the concept of redemption. That you see a celebrity or a politician do drugs or prostitutes, then he finds God, then he does alcohol, then he finds God, then he apologizes on Leno. It's a cycle, it's very familiar to all of us and it's something that's very embedded in this world, this country. But I'm not interested in redeeming Bill Maplewood. I don't know if there is redemption for him. I don't sympathize with him. Of course, I cannot sympathize with someone who has committed such crimes. He is a tragic figure, tragic in so far as he's a great father who loves his son. Look, the subject of pedophilia is of no inherent interest to me, but as a metaphor for that which is most demonized it's hard to beat, I think. Most Americans would prefer having Osama bin Laden to a pedophile at their dinner table. As a kind of crucible, a kind of test, when we say we love mankind, we embrace humanity, of course those are empty, hollow statements because they're platitudes of abstraction. The question is, what are the limits to embracing, to forgive and to accepting? Because that's the way in which we're defined as humans.

PC: Another common element in your films is the New Jersey suburbs. What made you decide to spare the Garden State this time around, and are you going back there in future films?

TS: In this movie, the myth of Florida is a place where one can recreate, reinvent oneself and erase one's past. It's where O.J. went after the trial. And, of course, it's where Trish goes. It's got a distinctive look of clean lines, the big sky, and the color palette is very fresh…In the next movie, I'm going to be in the tri-state area again. But for me, New Jersey is not so much New Jersey, but again a kind of metaphor for the way the suburbs in which most middle-class Americans live.

PC: Why are the suburbs so ripe for satire and parody?

TS: Well, in a certain sense I might say they're not because they've been done to death at this point. But what's interesting is examining, exploring their seduction. I grew up in the suburbs so it seems natural that it informs the way in which I look at the world and experience it, and then I have certainly a deeper, more immediate understanding of the suburbs than I would if I'd grown up in the city. If I'd grown up in the city, it's probably more likely my movies would be urban.

PC: But you've lived in the city for quite a while now, and you've said publicly that you love New York City, and you love the streets and the scene…

TS: I do, I do.

PC: What I'm curious about is why haven't you focused on New York more?

TS: I don't know. These things aren't so calculated. Why do you put pen to paper, and why do you tell this story and not that story?…You listen to whatever it is within you that impels you to write this story and nothing else.

PC: Is it as hard for you to write and direct your films as it is for some people to watch them?

TS: The physical act of directing is very stressful and difficult, but the content isn't what makes it more difficult, it's just the ordeal of the stress of the budget constraints that makes it stressful. The content, no. When you say it's difficult for people to sit through, I don't know how to respond to that. I mean, it takes a certain sensibility to respond to what I do. Certainly this film is fairly tactful, I think. There's nothing terribly unseemly, I think.

PC: To me, it's a character study about a group of very dysfunctional people trying to come to terms with their lives. But I watched Palindromes [whose young heroine, played by seven different actors, embarks on a misguided journey to get pregnant] with my fiancée, who hasn't seen any of your movies, and she didn't quite know how to respond to what was onscreen.

TS: Right, right. I don't know what to say. Some people have such an immediate visceral response, plus or minus. Others seem to be a bit at sea and others are more dispassionate. I don't know how to account for it. I think it's really sensibility. My movies, I think traditionally in the United States, almost half the box office revenue comes from one theater in New York. So it must be rooted somewhere in that sensibility.

PC: Going back to Life During Wartime, how come you keep using different actors in your films?

TS: It's not a rule, but I do like working with different people, discovering different actors. I mean, there are so many people I want to work with, I'll never get to work with all the actors I want to work with. And there are a lot of actors I've worked with that I'd love to work with again. It's just worked out that way.

PC: Who would you like to work with next?

TS: Oh, we'll see. I can't talk about that. We're casting it right now, as I speak.

PC: That's Dark Horse, correct?

TS: Yes.

PC: I know that you're very mum about your upcoming projects, but is there anything about the movie that you can tell our readers?

TS: We had actually considered shooting in Pennsylvania, but then the tax money dried up or something so it became less favorable to filmmakers. Otherwise, we might have been shooting here.

PC: Are you looking at New York, New Jersey, Connecticut?

TS: Actually, New York State has a tax incentive, so I think that's where we'll be.

PC: Some may find it surprising that it's still hard for you to get funding for your movies after all these years, even after the critical success you've enjoyed.

TS: It is—what can I say? Somehow I've gotten the financing and, knock wood, it won't fall apart this time so quickly. I'm very lucky that I like teaching.

PC: What do you do at New York University?

TS: It's a graduate program. I teach the spring in New York, and for six weeks I teach in Singapore, where they have a kind of satellite campus. I look at young people's work and I give them my thoughts, I share what I can with them. It's such a hard thing to be an aspiring filmmaker, so I'm very sympathetic.

PC: Has working with these young directors inspired you in any way?

TS: Um, no. [both laugh]

PC: Why not?

TS: I don't know. Why not? Why yes? What inspires me is the work itself. When you put pen to paper, that's when you discover. It doesn't mean that my teaching won't in some way inform what I do. I'm not aware or conscious of it.

PC: Speaking of the writing process, you mentioned before that the script for Life During Wartime took shape on its own. Is that your typical writing process, to just let things roll?

TS: It's a mixture of, I suppose, calculation and at the same time instinct. It's a creative process, it's very instinctive, but then as you revise it, you use more of the intellectual part of your head and you try to reshape it.

PC: One thing I've always been curious about is how critics define your works as funny or hilarious. Do you consider yourself to be a funny screenwriter, a funny director?

TS: [Playful] I don't know that I've made you laugh. I leave it to others. It's always a red flag if someone tells you, "I'm really funny."

Review of It's Kind of a Funny Story

Highly recommended. Please see it.

This review previously appeared in "ICON" and is reprinted with permission.

Several weeks ago, I saw The Other Guys, the latest Will Ferrell comedy where the star dabbled in oblivious, self-serious irony for two hours. It was an amusing enough diversion, but I found myself laughing out of habit. OK, Ferrell is giving a serious explanation behind a "Female Body Inspector" mug; I should probably chortle right about now.

I knew then that Ferrell's days as a go-to comedy star were done. There's no shame in that. Comedians, for whatever reason (a lack of versatility, complacency), usually age in dog years. Eddie Murphy's mid-1980s explosiveness seems like it happened a billion years ago. Like Murphy, Adam Sandler has morphed into a family-approved goofball, though he occasionally deviates from his act (Funny People). Despite being brilliant and hilarious as a stand-up comic, Chris Rock will probably never find his niche as a movie star. Dane Cook, the poor bastard, was nearly upstaged by Jessica Simpson in Employee of the Month.

Zach Galifianakis, he of the sea captain beard and boxy frame, became the latest breath of fresh air on the comedy front after The Hangover was released last year. Over the next year or two, it'll be interesting to see what he does. He's on board for a sequel to The Hangover and he's reuniting with that film's director, Todd Phillips, for November's Due Date.

What's promising about Galifianakis is that he appears uninterested in lording his dry, absurd comedic brand over the masses at every opportunity. In his latest effort, It's Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis plays Bobby, a longtime mental patient who befriends and mentors Craig (Keir Gilchrist, United States of Tara), a super-stressed 16-year-old, after the teen convinces a psychiatrist to admit him. Bobby is a role that begs for a performer to hijack the script and turn it into a misguided comedic display. Galifianakis refuses to go big, and his sympathetic, subdued performance is a big part of the movie's heart.

Like any teenager, Craig has problems. Only these weigh him down like an anchor. Despite being in one of New York City's top-flight high schools, Craig has no skills that set him apart from his talented classmates. That makes his father's desire for him to apply to some kind of exclusive summer program all the more toxic. Craig's best friend, Aaron (Thomas Mann), is an athletic and academic giant with a sultry girlfriend (Zoë Kravitz) named Nia whom Craig constantly imagines in a bathtub. With so much to worry about and college barreling toward him, there's no time for Craig to enjoy being a kid, to embrace the possibilities that come with it. The present and the future, which must seem like a giant dead end, provide nothing but stress.

After getting admitted to Argenon Hospital in Brooklyn, it doesn't take Craig long to realize that he doesn't belong there. Hospital rules won't acknowledge his moment of clarity. He must spend a minimum of five days on the ward, which contains a mix of adults and teens. It's not so bad. Bobby immediately becomes Craig's guide and inadvertent life coach. And Craig finally gets attention from a pretty girl, Noelle (Emma Roberts), a 16-year-old cutter who has the musical tastes of an alt-weekly magazine editor. While he makes friends at his temporary home, Craig becomes a cult hero at his school. Nia, who digs how experienced he's become, suddenly finds Craig quite appealing.

There are times when It's Kind of a Funny Story veers dangerously toward Park Slope cool. Noelle seems more equipped to be the hot girl at the independent record store than a psych ward resident, and Jeremy Davies' hat-wearing staff worker looks like the kind of guy who spends his weekends shopping at upscale SoHo thrift stores. Working from Ned Vizzini's semi-autobiographical book, writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar) never portray Argenon as a trendy destination. It's where a scared, confused kid finds himself, and the directors' portrayal of that is triumphant without being hokey When Craig is required to sing Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure," it's presented as a glammed-out rock opera. Craig's considerable drawing abilities unfurl gigantic and dream-like, as if they can't be contained. Craig's narration is accompanied by flashy images (e.g., Aaron's list of accomplishments), and colorful still shots. It's all dramatic and over-the-top, but that's how a teenager's mind operates. There are few shades of gray.

Still, Boden and Fleck never overplay their hand. This is undoubtedly a feel-good story, but there's a refreshing pragmatic streak, which makes Galifianakis' stellar performance so important. He's funny, but we can tell Bobby has suffered through one too many setbacks—he's tried to commit suicide six times, his wife has no use for him. There's little time left for comebacks. In Craig, Bobby sees someone who has too much potential to share his path. Galifianakis' gentle, weary approach expresses a cold truth: He has just enough energy left to steer Craig in the right direction. "You're cool, you're smart, you're talented," Bobby tells Craig. "Do you know what I'd do to be you for a day?" If given that chance, Bobby adds, he'd live life like it meant something.

Galifianakis isn't the only cast member who delivers the goods. Gilchrist manages to be brittle without being whiny (a major accomplishment), and Viola Davis (Doubt) is properly warm and reassuring as the psychiatrist with whom Craig reaches a breakthrough. Roberts is fresh-faced and delightful, just like aunt Julia was back in the day. Now that he's a comedy heavyweight, someone who could impose his will on a movie, Galifianakis' fine work matters the most. He doesn't aim for laughs; he doesn't resort to a routine. He just acts. That bodes well for It's Kind of a Funny Story and for Galifianakis' future. [PG-13]

Film Round-Up for October

In this edition of The Film Round-Up, you're in for a load of treats. You want great performances from talented young actresses? Got 'em. Hankering for a great romantic comedy? It's right here. Honestly, this was the best crop of movies I've seen in a long time, though it would have been nice if "Easy A" with the kick-ass Emma Stone (pictured) hadn't faltered in the end.

As always, these reviews previously appeared in "ICON" and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Heartbreaker (Dir: Pascal Chaumeil). Starring: Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis, Julie Ferrier, François Damiens, Héléna Noguerra, Andrew Lincoln, Jacques Frantz. For the right price and the right reasons, Alex Lippi—suave, handsome, and indisputably French—will seduce a woman so thoroughly that she will leave whatever loser she is seeing. Alex excels at his job, but his playboy lifestyle forces him to accept a profitable, but impossible assignment. Posing as the target's bodyguard, he must convince this gorgeous, successful bride-to-be (Paradis) to dump her apparently perfect fiancé (Lincoln). What's worse, Alex has only five days to complete the assignment. As predictable as the sunset, but you won't care. Duris and Paradis are almost comically sexy, the script is frothy and funny, and the sun-drenched Monaco scenery is enchanting. Perfectly packaged, impeccably paced, and full of good performances, including Ferrier (a master of disguise) and Damiens (a high-tech doofus with misguided acting aspirations), who nearly steal the movie as Alex's married colleagues. Heartbreaker is irresistible cinematic comfort food. If it doesn't put a hop in your step, check your pulse. (Note: Not to be confused with Heartbreakers, the underrated 2001 Sigourney Weaver/Jennifer Love Hewitt con artist comedy.) [NR] ****

Never Let Me Go. Dir: Mark Romanek). Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell, Charlie Rowe, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins. Young caretaker Kathy (Mulligan) is reunited with her two best friends from boarding school, Tommy (Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley), under less than celebratory circumstances. In the name of medical progress, all three have been bred as donors. Former lovers Tommy and Ruth have already been plucked, while Kathy, a kind of hospice worker for these unfortunate souls, is on deck herself for donation. Their story is told in flashbacks from the 1970s to the 1990s, with Kathy serving as a somber and heartbroken narrator. A most unusual coming-of-age story that resonates more than the conventional models, Romanek (One Hour Photo) and writer Alex Garland let the drama slowly seep in, nixing sci-fi undertones and emotional bellowing. These are characters sucked into the inevitable flow of their lives, just like everyone else, which gives Never Let Me Go a powerful (and relatable) poignancy. The three adult leads are very good, especially Mulligan. Like she did in An Education, and without a trace of effort, the talented young actress reminds us of someone we know. [R] ****

Easy A (Dir: Will Gluck). Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Aly Michalka, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell. Thanks to cell phones and the social network, a little white lie about a weekend fling immediately turns 17-year-old nobody Olive Penderghast (Stone) into a scandalous celebrity at her California high school. Olive then uses her newly acquired reputation (and only that) to "deflower" desperate male classmates, a benevolent act that leads to unforeseen consequences and forces her to set the record straight via Webcam. Stone (Superbad), in a star-making performance, is whip-smart, cheeky, and sexy sarcastic as the beleaguered heroine. So is everyone else, from her longtime crush (Badgley, who looks like he's in his tenth senior year) to her parents (Tucci and Clarkson) to her favorite teacher (Church). That lack of variety, teamed with more tired observations on the religious right and the movie's leeching of Brat Pack nostalgia, eventually negates the movie's bouncy energy and biting humor. Teens, however, should love every second of it as well as Stone's smart, plucky work. [PG-13] ***

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (Dir: Jean-François Richet). Starring: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Samuel Le Bihan, Gérard Lanvin, Olivier Gourmet. Conclusion to the two-part biography of Jacques Mesrine (Cassel), the famed French criminal/escape artist/charmer, takes place in the second half of the 1970s. At this point, Mesrine has become a major celebrity, and not just because he is France's biggest public enemy. He's all about cultivating a persona. He writes a book in prison, conducts a scandalous interview with a major magazine, and pretends his criminal acts have political significance. And he gains a super-hot girlfriend (Sagnier), whom he showers with expensive gifts after kidnapping a real estate tycoon. The ride is exhilarating, but it doesn't last for long. Exciting, well-filmed tale gets a big boost thanks to Cassel's towering, magnetic performance and a script that manages to make Mesrine mesmerizing without glamorizing his lifestyle. One thing is clear: If the police hadn't gunned down Mesrine in 1979, his massive ego wouldn't have kept him alive for too long. [R] ***