Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Hammer

Friday, March 20th, 2015

In his film star debut, The Man Show and Loveline’s Adam Carolla plays an Olympic caliber boxer. At 18, Jerry “The Hammer” Ferro was a champion; now 40, his nickname underscores his job in construction. Casting pale, paunchy Carolla as a knockout king is odd. (Though his nasal drone is no more incongruous than Mike Tyson’s pipsqueak.) That Carolla wrote the script (along with Kevin Hench) brings the premise into focus, as does the film’s quick mention that in recent medal bouts the US has taken home one prize to Kazakhstan’s three. Besides, Carolla’s cheesy romance with a classy public defender (Heather Juergensen) is so ludicrous that in comparison, the boxing seems entirely credible. A better love match is between him and best friend Oswaldo (Oswaldo Castillo), a migrant worker whose scenes set up Carolla’s gift for riffing sharply observational and utterly LA ethnic humor. (Upon spending his birthday with Oswaldo’s rowdy motherland-toasting buddies, Carolla notes, “You guys sure seem to love Nicaragua . . . except for the part where you risked your lives not to live there anymore.”) As a comic actor, Carolla splits the difference between Adam Sandler and Rodney Dangerfield. His one distinct tic is to cram in four punch lines when most would stop at one; few are knockouts, but each packs a solid hit. Like the boxer himself, the flick is flabby but light on its feet, both ultimately exceeding expectations.

Click here for The Hammer in the I.E. Weekly

Brothers

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) opens his drama about a wife and two brothers with a shot of the American flag. Grace (Natalie Portman), her Marine husband Sam (Tobey Maguire) and their two young daughters (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare) live in one of those patriotic small towns where the Stars and Bars are slapped on every satellite dish. (And where they graduated high school as the head cheerleader and football star.) So, too, does Sam’s brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal)—at least, sort of. He’s been living in the jail down the road, and now freshly released, he’s decided to hole up in a local motel. When Sam’s helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan and Grace gets that dreaded visit from two formal Marines, everyone is upended. Sam’s dad (a great Sam Shepard) takes to drink, Grace and her girls crumble, and Tommy’s first reaction is to show up wasted and screaming on her doorstep, blaming her for allowing Sam’s second tour of duty. Gyllenhaal anchors the film as a screw-up who slowly fills the vacuum his stand up brother left behind; he’s solid, complicated and wholly credible. By contrast, Portman is a girl playing dress up—Sheridan tries to age her with turtleneck sweaters, but she’s more believable as a galactic queen than a heartland housewife. When Carey Mulligan (the breakout star of An Education) pops up in a cameo, you realize how rich the film would be with her in the lead. But Portman was cast because she’s pretty, and if you’re in any doubt of that, screenwriter David Benioff nudges us with lines like, “Oh my God, she’s so pretty!” The film is apolitical enough for both red and blue staters. War is noble, except for when it isn’t, and when one of the girls says that her daddy is fighting the bad guys with the beards, the family smiles without egging her on. It doesn’t spoil the film to reveal that Sam survived his crash. What follows both abroad and at home is so wrenching, he almost wishes he hadn’t—a painful twist the film approaches with the same clear-eyed patience.

Click here for Brothers in the IE Weekly

All About Steve

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

“Will Shortz once said that it’s human nature to want to fill in empty spaces,” chirps cruciverbalist Mary Magdalene Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) in one of the many crossword-inspired bits of wisdom in this comedy that’s not just dumb, it’s dopey, moronic, doltish, obtuse and thick. Mary Horowitz is half-Catholic, half-Jewish, if screenwriter Kim Barker hadn’t yet hammered it over your head with her name. That’s the sort of forced detail that passes for character development. So, too, are Mary’s boots: red patent clompers that everyone treats with kitten-sweatshirt horror, when they’re obviously a hot target for fetishists. But it’s okay that Barker and director Phil Traill think you’re dumb; so much the better to appreciate Mary’s Rain Man sapience which, along with her social dysfunction and emotional cluelessness, has her scoring off the charts for Asperger’s syndrome. Mary’s parents (Howard Hesseman and bit part superstar Beth Grant) decide instead to fix her up with the son of a friend, a news cameraman named Steve (Bradley Cooper, handsome and annoyed) who is so cute and tactfully kind that Mary’s ripping his clothes off before dinner. When he spooks and runs, Mary chases, and the action follows the very, very attractive crossword puzzle writer stalking the newsman through several Midwestern disasters. Along for the ride are Mary’s new BFFs DJ Qualls and Katy Mixon—both playing Oklahomans with more fingers than brain cells—and the producer (Ken Jeong) and boorish anchor (Thomas Haden Church) who continue inciting Mary’s lust for kicks. Every element of this is as tone deaf as the hearing-impaired children who Church and Cooper rush to video when they fall down a mine. The only credit I can offer it is that it floats the idea that none of their leads are well-suited to date anyone—a truth so obvious you could write it in pen.

Click here for All About Steve in the IE Weekly

Outside the Box

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

There’s a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney vibe to this talent showcase for a school of circus arts. Each act shows off its best stunt: two men (William Smith and Eric Yu) dress like bunnies and kung fu fight, a contortionist (Hannah Finn) outfitted like a mall-dwelling punk teen bends herself into a pretzel over angry poetry, a dancer (Dana Dugan) in a wet slip presses water prints against the floor. Between acts, the mute stagehand (Scott Renkes) clowns around and discovers a prop that serves as a harbinger of the next routine as the two-person Kleinkunst Kabarett (accordionist Ari DeSano and singer Morgan Lariah) wheeze musical accompaniment. Director Stephanie Abrams, who also mimes a comedic suicide routine, could stand to get more energy from her performers who move capably but tentatively through their routines — their movements need the confident snap of a circus that knows it’ll wow ‘em. Burlesque dancer Christina Aimerito brandishes her fire batons with a solid amount of sass, but it’s dancer Onamare who slides in wearing a sexy hajib, garters, bondage ropes and two foot-long flaming rings who burns down the house.

Click here for Outside the Box in the LA Weekly

Bandslam

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Despite co-starring High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens, this teen comedy positions itself as the anti-Disney rock flick; its more influenced by Belle and Sebastian than Britney Spears. Josh A. Cagan and Todd Graff’s (the latter of whom also directs) is a modest if over long crowd pleaser about a gang of kids who form a band—and not just any band, but a honed, savvy and hip product ready for Myspace success. Though production company Summit made a blockbuster out of the similarly underestimated Twilight, Bandslam will be greeted at the box office with the lazy affection given a good, but unknown opening band.

Will (Gaelan Connell) isn’t a high school musical dreamboat. He’s a geek who worships the Arcade Fire and Lou Reed—both name checked way more than you’d expect for a movie co-starring Disney cash cow Vanessa Hudgens, here, cast against expectation as a proto-Janeane Garofalo depressive who goes by the name of Sa5m. (The “5″ is silent.) Will’s classmates hounded him out of Cincinnati, so single mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) found an excuse to settle in New Jersey where the big buzz is Bandslam—a competition that pits high school bands from NJ to NY against each other for a recording contract. “It’s Texas high school football big,” explains Sa5m, when Will notes that the fan base for their school’s number one band, Ben Wheatly and the Glory Dogs, models their frenzy after Nuremberg.

After the most popular girl in school, Charlotte (Alyson Michalka), graces him with her friendship, Will resolves to manage her band to stardom—or at least to beat her ex-boyfriend Ben (Scott Porter) and his ego project. Though Will is immediately smitten with Charlotte, much to Sa5m’s annoyance and our confusion that he could win either of the beauties, this is a teen musical that thinks music is at least as important as who’s crushing on whom. Will’s more fixated on rounding out the band’s sound—he’s hilariously named them I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On—than he is on scoring his first kiss with Charlotte or Sa5m, though naturally that and several plot contrivances are as inevitable as the next U2 album. Fill in the rest of their wacky band mates and an unnerving subplot where Will pimps out his mom to snare the best dummer in school, and you have a charming eye-roller with a nice streak that goes as deep as casting real teen bands for I Can’t Go On’s completion. It’s easy to be cynical about a film that has David Bowie discovering the group on Youtube, but the joy on Will’s face as he crowd-surfs for the first time shot me right back to 15 years old, at the front row of the Butthole Surfers. If you gotta take your kid brother somewhere this weekend, at least he might leave this motivated to pick up a bass, or at least a Ziggy Stardust cd.

Click here for Bandslam in Boxoffice Magazine

Cirque Berzerk

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

A dreadlocked ringmaster tells a misfit girl to flee the land of the corporate zombies, where businessmen in masks and suits sprawl half dead before tombstones made of suitcases. And she does, committing suicide to descend from the ceiling of the venue’s big top tent to the underworld circus of the fully dead, whose acts include suicides hanging themselves from trapezes and a drowned sailor and his wife contorting through a boneless, weightless sexual dance. Later, a troupe of dead brothers make brilliant use of a trampoline and an oversized photo frame, and a phalanx of hellish Liza Minnellis reenacts Cabaret with flaming chairs. The creative team of Suzanne Bernel, Kevin Bourque and Neal Everett put on quite a show. The 26 performers and seven piece band are fantastic, and fantastically served by Heather Goodman and Mary Anne Parker’s costumes, which have the bravado to make an outfit out of an Elizabethan collar, feathers, a bikini top and knee socks. (The production was born at Burning Man.) And because the stage rotates, there’s not a bad seat in the house, even out in this ex-cornfield east of Chinatown.

Click here for Cirque Berzerk in the LA Weekly

Food Inc.

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

How many times a week do you eat corn? Try 50. Self-interested moves from farmers, producers and government officials have made corn and its children (corn starch and corn syrup) the staple of the American diet. It’s cheap, it’s filling and it’s changing human bodies faster than the prehistoric trek out of Africa. Robert Kenner’s documentary tracks how big business has warped our food. This isn’t a conspiracy thriller, but an indictment of all the tiny decisions made for the bottom line that add up to fat children and skyrocketing rates of diabetes. Talking heads Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) throw their weight behind this engaging and enraging primer of corporate caloric misdeeds as Kenner skips around from chickens to pigs to spinach to potatoes. Even the bacon-loving (myself included) left the theater vowing to eat more organic. But Kenner smartly makes it clear that choosing to eat better is a luxury. In one scene, he takes a poor and overweight family living off dollar menus to the grocery store to see what healthy, filling choices their budget affords. A crown of broccoli costs a cheeseburger and a half, sighs the dad, as the youngest girl, already weighed down by cheap calories, looks wistfully at some too-pricey pears. But the business model that allows a fried chicken sandwich to cost less than a grapefruit at Whole Foods will exist until shoppers make the choice to make selling junk food economically unsustainable. After all, the one upside to having our food supply run by only a handful of corporations is that they can just as easily promote salads if that’s where the money is. Notes a dairy producer, food might be the one area where buying healthy from Wal-Mart might serve a long-term good. The more free-range eggs Sam Walton’s family sells, the more they’ll order—meaning more and more chickens get to stretch their wings.

Click here for Food Inc. in the IE Weekly

Obsessed

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Meow! If you’re looking for a catfight, you can’t do better than Beyoncé Knowles on Ali Larter—two gorgeous, strong women glowering their way through Steve Shill’s glorious wedge of cheesecake. By any measure, this melodrama about a wife defending her husband from a blonde sex predator isn’t a good movie; however, when Beyoncé finally socks her rival in the jaw, the medium-sized audiences willing to pony up for good, clean trash will burst into the sort of applause usually reserved for greatness.

The characters in David Loughery’s script are as archetypal as silent movie heroes and villains. On the side of evil is Larter’s delusional office temp, or “temptress,” as money manager Jerry O’Connell dubs her on her first day on the job (this is what passes for foreshadowing in Loughery’s world—either he’s delusional himself, or a tongue-in-cheek genius like R. Kelly). On the side of righteousness are Beyoncé’s lioness wife and husband Idris Elba, a wealthy family man as square jawed and upstanding as Dudley Do-Right. In the ’80s, the men in love triangle thrillers were allowed to fool around at least a little, but Elba never so much as feels up Larter’s Wonderbra; the one time the vixen straps him on for a ride, she’s had to lace his cocktail with roofies.

Shades of gray? Moral ambiguity? Who needs ‘em, says Shill’s popcorn-tossing romp. Obsessed traffics in catharsis—we aren’t here to learn about the human condition, we just want to watch Beyoncé tromp a tramp. Shill is so convinced of the joy of his simple set up, he layers Larter’s every move with music ripped from Halloween. Larter accosting Elba in lacy granny panties and fishnets is scored with the hysterical violins of violence—if only she’d topped her outfit with a hockey mask.

In her earlier scenes as the world’s best office temp, Larter’s desperate secretary gives off an air of forced bravado. She’s good at what she does, and we’re wary of her calculating brilliance. After Elba rejects her for the third time, she charges headlong off the rails. Was she always nuts? Has she done this before? Shill spares us the daddy issues flashback—by the time the film ends, we know nothing more of her roots except that her blonde is likely perked up a notch with bleach. The film is so deadpan that we’re never sure if these are deliberate filmmaker omissions or lazy audience underestimations. I’d love to credit Shill with the former, however no one involved seemed to notice that in one scene, Elba says he’s an Aquarius, but then later celebrates his birthday in March. (Hey, so Obsessed isn’t going to win any kudos from the academy, or even the phone psychics union.) There’s still few places I’d rather be than in a packed movie house for this film’s outrageously tabloid-pop climax.

Click here for Obsessed in Boxoffice Magazine

Eleven Minutes

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Eleven minutes refers to the average length of a fashion runway show, but here it could also stand in for the amount of fame designer Jay McCarroll knows he’s already burned through as the first season winner of Project Runway. McCarroll, a beaming, goateed drama queen, was crowned the next name in fashion and then cast aside, to hear him tell it. In truth, McCarroll did his career the disservice of rejecting their $100,000 start up funds and internship at Banana Republic as a point of misguided pride. Directors Michael Selditch and Robert Tate skim over that fact in their documentary about McCarroll’s frantic efforts to put up his first show during New York Fashion Week before the time runs out on his fame. Which is odd, because while they are shooting for some of that rah rah underdog cheer, there’s no mistaking that McCarroll is a self-defeating prima donna. Though he’ll admit to every camera that he doesn’t know what he’s doing—telling the directors that he can only put ideas on paper, not produce, market, distribute, and merchandise a line of clothing—to his much more experienced handlers, he’s snappy and stubborn and convinced he’s on the right course.

What becomes clear is the personality that makes McCarroll the perfect reality show star is what ultimately contributes to the downfall of his debut line; Karl Lagerfeld has earned the right to be imperious, but a novice designer needs humility. On some level, McCarroll nearly seems to know that—he’s openly aware of his limited shelf life and low status among serious people in the fashion community. The parts that work in this doc are the early scenes that examine the hurricane collision of media attention on a tender talent that’s buffeted by hype and pressure. (Mark Jacobs’ first collection wasn’t nearly as scrutinized, McCarroll notes wearily.) Project Runway gave McCarroll a name. It also gave him a flood of interested individuals—but not store—buyers and hate mail from people who want him to have a heart attack and die, all months before his first stiletto hits the runway.

The collection, inspired McCarroll says, by vaginal waste, ’60s architecture, and hot air balloons, is a grab bag of color block hoodies, Bermuda shorts, and striped dresses that pales underneath the buzz. Brighter are the words coming from McCarroll’s mouth. “In order to finance my damn collection, I have to sell crack cocaine on the street,” he gripes to a radio host. There’s some technical interest in seeing just how hard it is to make thirty outfits—a button idea alone goes through eight pairs of hands between New York and China. The drama is undercut somewhat by the lens of distance—this was shot in 2006, and since then, McCarroll’s never had another show and only been in the spotlight when New York Magazine recently confirmed that he was semi-homeless (the fashionable couch-surfing kind). But overall, this is a documentary that, like its subject, squanders its potential. If only it had followed up with a shot of McCarroll’s present day online store, where the wild dresses of his imagination have now been replaced by ill-fitting tee-shirts with a screenprinted image of his face.

Click here for Eleven Minutes in the IE Weekly

The Best Films of 2008

Thursday, January 8th, 2009
Synecdoche, New York

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In Bruges

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Shotgun Stories

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Standard Operating Procedure

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The Promotion

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Bigger, Stronger, Faster

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The Wrestler

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Special

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Sangre de mi Sangre

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Religulous

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Special mention: Heckler, for being the best thing Jamie Kennedy’s ever done (perhaps he should stop now?), and the retirement home choir of Young @ Heart, who broke through the documentary’s trite direction and made me weep buckets. Also Tropic Thunder, The Dark Knight, and WALL-E — popcorn flicks so good and so profitable, they don’t need my extra push.

Click here for The Best Films of 2008 in Boxoffice Magazine