Reviews for March 20th, 2009
Directed by Craig Carlisle.
Bob Funk (Michael Leydon Campbell), a middle-aged man working as the Vice President of Sales at Funk Foam and Futon, run by his own mother (Grace Zabriskie), has hit rock bottom. He’s divorced with no kids, comes late to work, hates work, has no girlfriend, often gets drunk and has one-night stands. When a sexy new employee, Ms. Thorne (Rachel Leigh Cook), arrives at the family business, he takes the opportunity to sexually harass her. Soon enough, his mother fires him and requires him to see a therapist, Dr. Day (Terri Mann), while agreeing that if he does want to come back to work, he must start off as a custodian. Ron (Eddie Jemison), Bob’s younger brother, also works for the family business and has problems of his own which involve thoughts of cheating on his wife by flirting with Ms. Thorne. Will Bob’s blossoming relationship with Ms. Thorne help him to find stability in his life? Will his therapist help him to find to root of his problems? Bob seems like an adult who simply hasn’t grown up, yet, and who bottles up his problems deep inside him, so it’s not easy for him to suddenly confront them. Unfortunately, writer/director Craig Carlisle doesn’t depict Bob’s transformation in a convincing or organic way. Bob comes across as annoying, selfish, unreliable and inconsiderate from the very start and still remains annoying through the end. Carlisle could have least given him some redeeming qualities such as charisma, which would have helped for you to truly care about him rather than to wonder what anyone, namely Ms. Thorne, sees in him to begin with. The sessions with his therapist just make him seem more crazy, irritating and juvenile, especially when he thinks how funny it is to pretend to hit on her. Amy Ryan briefly radiates much-needed charisma a bar patron whom Bob drowns all his sorrows to while she listen on with very little interest before she agrees to have a one-night stand with him. Grace Zabriskie provides some gravitas as Bob’s mother/boss and, thanks to her terrifically convincing performance, she has one particularly poignant scene where she opens up to him emotionally at a café. At a running time of 106 minutes, Bob Funk manages to be mildly engaging and occasionally moving, but often feels sitcomish, falls flat as a comedy and lacks genuine tenderness and insight into its troubled characters’ lives. Much like its titular character, the film itself has some serious growing up to do and needs a strong dose of warmth and charisma.Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Cinema Epoch. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Directed by Tony Gilroy.
Ray Koval (Clive Owen), a former MI6 agent, teams up with former CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) to work as corporate spies for rival companies in the beauty product industry. Smarmy owner Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) runs one of the companies, Burkett & Randall, while another smarmy owner, Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti), runs the company Omnikrom and attempts to steal top secret information from Burkett & Randall that would make him rich. Meanwhile, Ray and Claire quietly scheme to steal those secrets for themselves in hopes of becoming rich together. Will their scheme really work? What are those secrets in particular? Might Ray or Claire be playing a game of duplicity with one another? Who will end up outsmarting whom? Who will be able to find a way to successfully untangle all of the intricate webs of deceit? Writer/director Tony Gilroy, who also wrote and directed Michael Clayton, doesn’t provide easy answers to these questions and, in a sense, plays games with the audience. He often flashes the plot backwards and forwards in chronology so that you’re given a little bit of information at a time while more and more questions about the characters’ true motivations pop up in your head. In a rather contrived subplot, there’s a romance between Claire and Ray which falls flat. Isn’t it enough to observe the way they subtly flirt with one another as corporate spies? Gilroy also includes very stylish cinematography and editing that invigorates the film a bit. Much of the dialogue, unfortunately, sounds bland and stilted with a few brief moments of wittiness, though. There’s surprisingly very little action throughout the film and none of it includes any gunfire, which helps to keep you focused on character development and the intricacies of the plot without any over-the-top scenes. However, as more twists become revealed, none of which will be spoiled here, implausibility gradually waxes until the gimmicky third act. At a running time of 125 minutes, Duplicity has a terrific cast, stylish cinematography and some intrigue, but the suspense and sizzle wane as the intricate plot gradually thickens. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Universal Pictures.
The Great Buck Howard
Directed by Sean McGinly.
Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) drops out of law school and becomes the assistant of Buck Howard (John Malkovich), a magician, mentalist, musician and comedian who used to be so famous years ago that he appeared a total of 61 times on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”. His former assistant (Adam Scott) whom he had fired, mocks him by calling him a fossil and, soon enough, magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, label him as a failure that isn’t so great despite that he’s called The Great Buck Howard. He desperately wants a career comeback rather than continuing to entertain old folks at community theaters, so he also hires the sexy Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt) as his publicist, who arrives at Cincinnati, Ohio where he hopes to ignite his career. One of his greatest tricks, which always wows the audience, is to use his mental skills to find his entire fee for the show which someone has hidden among the audience members. Two of the audience members come with him backstage to ensure that he’s not cheating while they hide it. Is he definitely not cheating? Will Troy and Valerie succeed in making him famous once again? Will Troy continue to follow his passion, stand up to his father, played by Tom Hanks, and find financial stability? Writer/director Sean McGinly fails to develop the character of Troy enough so that you would care about what happens to him, especially when he has a contrived romance with Valerie. Moreover, the laughs somewhat dwindle in the second half of the film and he does a mediocre job of balancing the comedy with drama and romance. Colin Hanks and Emily do provide some charisma and amiability as Troy and Valerie, respectively, but there’s not enough meatiness to their roles, so they both come across as generally bland and forgettable as characters. John Malkovich, has a much meatier role as Buck Howard, and delivers a delightfully hilarious and radiant performance. He sinks his teeth into the role with ease and has terrific sense of comic timing, such as when Buck Howard shakes people’s hands very aggressively, nearly dislocating their shoulder. At a running time of 90 minutes, The Great Buck Howard boasts a radiant comedic performance by John Malkovich and a breezy, sporadically hilarious plot that increasingly becomes a lazy, contrived and uneven satire with not enough bite. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at Clearview 62nd & Broadway, Clearview 1st & 62nd and the Angelika Film Center.
Directed by Steve McQueen.
Based on a true story. Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) a member of the Irish Republican Army, protests against the British government and gets locked up in Maze Prison at Belfast, Ireland, where he starves himself. Before his ordeal gets depicted onscreen, you watch as other IRA prisoners suffer at the jail. Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan), suspected for terrorism, observes that the last inmate had smeared feces on the cell’s walls and that the guards, who physically abuse them, drench the prison’s halls with urine. He and his cellmate, Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon), refuse to wear their jail uniform or to get cleaned up. Not surprisingly, they have no choice but to eat food infested with maggots. They also devise inventive methods for communication. It’s frightening to imagine the realities of these physical and mental tortures in prison have been echoed in the way that the U.S. army tortured prisoners at the prisons of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, which you may recall from the documentaries Standard Operating Procedure and Taxi to the Darkside. After all, during George W. Bush’s term as U.S. President, he found a way to legalize torture. Going back to Hunger, there’s another subplot where Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), a security guard during the IRA riots in Belfast, fears for his life as he checks for bombs beneath cars. Director/co-writer Steve McQueen wisely sets up the stage and atmosphere for the real crux of the story: the experiences of Bobby Sands at Maze Prison. Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham), an Irish priest, has a lengthy conversation with him that involves tough, provocative questions about sacrifice, which help you to get into Bobby’s mind once he lays his thoughts and feelings out on the table. No matter how keenly you observe the prisoners’ terrible conditions at the prison, nothing will prepare you for observing what Bobby goes through during the last thirty minutes of the film. McQueen uses many close-up shots of his physical condition as he continues to starve himself. It often feels so palpably devastating, horrifying and tragic to watch Bobby suffering that you’ll be tempted to cringe and look away. Many of the images, though, look quite emotionally powerful without dialogue. At a running time of 92 minutes, Hunger manages to be heartbreaking, poignant, haunting and captivating from start to finish. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center.
I Love You, Man
Directed by John Hamburg.
When Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), a real estate agent, overhears his fianée, Zooey (Rashida Jones), telling her girlfriend that he has no friends, he desperately sets out to find a male friend who’d be willing to be his best man at their wedding. Robbie (Andy Samberg), Peter’s gay younger brother, tries, unsuccessfully, to help him to find straight men willing to go out on platonic outings. Even the personal ads don’t help much. At an open house that he’s trying to sell, he meets a friendly guy, Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), with whom he musters the courage to chill with, whether it’s at a restaurant, boardwalk, concert or his bachelor pad. Jon Favreau briefly shows up as Barry, the husband of Denise (Jaime Pressly), Zooey’s best friend. Jane Curtain and J.K. Simmons play Peter’s mother, Joyce, and father, Oz, who invite everyone to a dinner celebration at a Chinese restaurant, where Sydney makes a hilariously embarrassing speech. Peter’s new friendship with Sydney affects everything in his life from his relationship with Zooey to the way he behaves at work. Co-writer/director John Hamburg deftly balances the silly, yet funny humor with witty dialogue that provides an insightful social commentary. The real highlight here, though, is the chemistry between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, whose charisma and warmth radiates right off the screen. Peter and Sydney interact with one another like real friends, although they do have a few awkward moments because of Peter’s poor social skills which need improvement. Unlike most comedies nowadays, such as the recent Miss March or Pineapple Express, the jokes actually feel fresh with limited use of toilet humor while there isn’t too much mean-spiritedness to the characters’ actions Most importantly, the lively cast adds plenty of comic energy and they all seem to be having a lot of fun in their roles. At a running time of 104 minutes, I Love You, Man manages to be a refreshingly delightful and intelligent comedy filled with warmth, charisma and wit. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. Released by Paramount Pictures.
Interview with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, stars of I Love You, Man
The New Twenty
Directed by Chris Mason Johnson.
A group of five friends living in New York City struggle through their own relationship and job-related issues as they approach the age of thirty. When you first meet them, they’re sharing laughter and having a great time together while in their college years. Seven years later, new obstacles in their lives threaten to break up their bond. Julie (Nicole Bilderback) and her fiancé, Andrew (Ryan Locke), work on Wall Street and have found financial success, unlike the rest of their friends. Felix (Thomas Sadoski), a drug addict and the only straight guy among the group, has yet to get over the fact that Julie, the love of his life, won’t take him back. Tony (Andrew Wei Lin), Julie’s younger brother, starts a romantic relationship with Robert (Bill Sage), a professor who has HIV. Then there’s Ben (Colin Fickes), an obese, unattractive and lonely young man who surfs the internet for hook-ups, but his charisma alone doesn’t help him find someone to spend time with once they met him face-to-face. Meanwhile, Andrew must decide whether or not to be part of a start-up company along with Louie (Terry Serpico), who desperately wants him to invest in it. Will Andrew yield to those greedy temptations? How will his decisions affect his relationship with Julie? Will the other friends in the group find true love? Director/co-writer Chris Mason Johnson includes a lively bunch of characters with interesting personal struggles for each of them. It’s refreshing to ways gay and straight New Yorkers being friends with one another regardless of sexual orientation. If only the screenplay weren’t so contrived and awkward, the characters would come to life rather than seem forgettable and somewhat bland. Johnson tries too hard to cram a lot of issues, subplots and characters into only 92 minutes, which makes the film feel overstuffed. The performances are decent while the cinematography looks slick and stylish, but that’s not enough to keep you absorbed in these characters’ lives. Any of the subplots could have been fleshed out much more organically and thoroughly without compromising the dramatic tensions and overall momentum. Ultimately, The New Twenty has interesting characters and a terrific cast, but feels somewhat contrived, bland and lacking an authentic emotional resonance. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Wolfe Releasing. Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Skills Like This
Directed by Monty Miranda.
After his grandfather suffers from a heart attack during a theatrical performance of “The Onion Dance”, Max (Spencer Berger), the 25-year-old playwright, he turns to a life of crime as a means of supporting himself financially. He walks up to a teller at a bank with his huge fro an, without wearing a mask, demands cash and quickly flees. A rough sketch of his face and fro appear in the newspaper, but, nontheless, he remains calm and unafraid. Just when you think he’s going to run off and spend the cash or rob another bank, he meets the bank teller, Lucy (Kerry Knuppe), at a local bar and strikes up a conversation with her. She’s initially hesitant to interact with him because he’s a criminal, but, soon enough, he seduces her with his charm and they end up having sex at her place. Meanwhile, his good friend, Dave (Gabriel Tigerman), can barely handle the pressure of getting involved in crime while his other friend, Tommy (Brian D. Phelan), enthusiastically show their support for his newfound lifestyle. The screenplay by Spencer Berger has some snappy dialogue and offbeat humor reminiscent of Clerks, but it soon wears out its welcome and becomes too repetitive rather than continue to be refreshing. Initially, the way that Max and his friends talk to one another sounds stilted and awkward, but, once you get used to their strange colloquialisms and mannerisms, you won’t be too annoyed, especially by Brian D. Phelan’s over-the-top performance as Tommy. Although Monty Miranda, in his directorial debut, maintains a fast pace and stylish cinematography which provides some momentum to the film, the plot quickly loses steam during the second half as it becomes more and more implausible and silly. Max’s motives change in a way that seems too sudden and forced while it’s not quite apparent what Lucy sees in him that makes her want to continue seeing him and risking her life. Despite stylish editing, lively performances and some effervescent dialogue, Skills Like This eventually becomes insipid, tedious, inane and a bit lackluster. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Shadow Distribution. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Directed by Kyle Schickner.
Three women from different generations share their troubles with one another at a steam bath. Elizabeth (Kate Siegel) has a sexual identity crisis when she meets, Reshma Shetty, a sexy, seductive girl in her college class who’s not afraid to confess to her that she’s bi and introduces her to a wild, free-spirited lifestyle. Niala also is an activist for safe sex and supports a group that gives away free, clean needles to drug addicts. Elizabeth must confront her uptight, Roman Catholic parents who require her to go to Sunday mass each week no matter what. What will they do when they find out that she’s a lesbian? Unfortunately, writer/director Kyle Schickner doesn’t handle the subject matter of sexual identity crisis with enough sensitivity or tenderness and, instead, turns it into a contrived, bland and awkward drama. The same can be said for the other storylines that involve the problems of middle-aged Laurie (Ally Sheedy), a single mother who has joint custody of her son, TJ (Zach Mills), who initially prefers to live with his father, Tom (Ron Bottitta), who has found a sexy blonde girlfriend nearly half his age. When Laurie picks TJ up from soccer practice, her friend convinces her to hit on the hunk coach, Roy (Alan Ritchson), who’s nearly half her age. She agrees to go out with him and gets nervous when he quickly declares that he loves her. What will TJ when he finds out that his mom is going out with his coach? Does Roy even know the meaning of the word “love”? The weak screenplay along with stilted dialogue fails to bring any of the characters to life despite Ally Sheedy’s decent performance. Laurie and Roy have very little chemistry with one another and they interact before and during their first date feels too forced. Finally, there’s the story of Doris (Ruby Dee), an elderly woman who still hasn’t come to terms with the death of her husband. When she meets a friendly widower, August (Dick Anthony Williams), she’s initially hesitant to begin a relationship with him, but they eventually spark a romance. A tragic event, which won’t be spoiled here, turns the drama/romance into melodrama that makes it feel like bland a soap opera. When Doris, Laurie and Elizabeth gather at the steam bath, they talk a lot in “bumper sticker”, overly simplified language, but actually say very little. It’s very strange that, although the film begins with them at the steam bath, it doesn’t end with them there. At an excessive running time of 2 hours, Steam manages to be convoluted, contrived and bland while failing to be truly endearing, insightful or believable in terms of drama and romance. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Fencesitter Films. Opens at the Cinema Village.
Directed by Ray Griggs.
Ed Gruberman (Justin Whalin), a wannabe superhero, gets into trouble with the law when he fights the wrong villain. A judge (Michael Rooker) sentences him with a punishment that he least expected: to attend Super Capers, a training academy for superheroes. He joins superheroes that have actual powers, such as Will Powers (Ryan McPartlin) who’s the group’s man of steel and its captain, Felicia Freeze (Danielle Harris) who can freeze things with ice, Puffer Boy (Ray Griggs) who puffs into a blowfish whenever he’s frightened and Herbert Brainard (Samuel Lloyd, Christopher Lloyd’s nephew) who has telekinesis. The team of superheroes must defeat villains and find missing gold bullion, which requires traveling through time. Ed happens to be riding on a bus that has what looks like the famous flux capacitor from Back to the Future, so, soon enough, he uses the bus to go back in time. Be sure to look out for a cameo by Adam West. Writer/director Ray Griggs aims for spoof, but ends up with a very inane and juvenile mess that feels like a Saturday morning cartoon for little kids under the age of ten. Just when you thought that Superhero Movie went to new lows to lampoon the superhero genre, you’ll be surprised how many desperate, painfully unfunny attempts at jokes you’ll find here with very poor comic timing. Sure, much of the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek and the plot never really takes itself too seriously, but if only the jokes were not so dumbed down, repetitive and lazy in spirit. Why not include some bloopers to try to generate at least some laughter at the end rather than leaving the audience so sadly silent throughout the entire duration of the film? Even if you manage to suspend your disbelief and to check your brain at the door, Super Capers still feels lazy, dull, painfully juvenile and void of any real thrills, laughs or even unintentionally funny moments. Number of times I checked my watch: 7. Released by Roadside Attractions. Opens at AMC Empire 25.
We Pedal Uphill
Directed by Roland Tec.
Thirteen vignettes taking place in thirteen different states makes up this tapestry about post-September 11th America. Some of those stories feel compelling and provocative while most of them fall flat from poor execution and not enough exploration of important issues. The least compelling segment, a PR agent vents her frustrations about capturing the ideal presidential photo as she walks through the Redwood forest with a photographer. A secretary of a politician has a brief crisis of conscience when she realizes that not conforming to an unethical decision that involves political corruption can get her fired from her job. In another segment, a homosexual teenager buries books such as The Picture of Dorian Gay outside the home of his homophobic, religious family and runs away. An African-American man drives many miles to a predominantly white neighborhood to give thanks to a white man for saving the life of his family from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. The racial tensions between the two can be felt as they interact with one another. In the most well-written and provocative vignette, Federal agents show up at a library and demand a librarian to show them the records of an Arabic man who may or may not be a terrorist. When she refuses to hand them the records, they threaten to send to her Guantanamo Bay prison---which, more accurately, should be called a gulag given that George W. Bush had legalized torture to take place there. That interactions in that segment alone reflect what author Naomi Wolf warned about in her book The End of America, which discussed ten steps that Bush used to close down America's open, democratic society in a way that echoed the steps that dictators such as Benito Mussolini, Augusto Pinochet, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin used in similar fashion. Three of those steps include to “invoke an external and internal threat”, to “establish secret prisons” and to “recast criticism as espionage and Dissent as Treason”. The Feds in the segment in We Pedal Uphill treat the librarian much like the fascist Gestapo agents would have back in Germany during the 1930s. It’s quite a frightening observation about our country that does seem harsh and extreme, but at least it’s a brutally honest and perceptive one. At a running time of 111 minutes, We Pedal Uphill manages to be occasionally compelling and provocative, but mostly underwhelming and lacking intrigue. At least it's a much more truthful depiction of America post-9/11 than the propaganda film Proud American, produced by American Airlines and Coca-Cola. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Cinevolve Studios. Opens at the Cinema Village.