With its crotchety old grandpa, precocious youngster and busted van, Sunshine Cleaning is going to have a hard time fending off comparisons to Little Miss Sunshine. Throw in a little Alan Arkin, and it is an incredibly similar movie. But where Little Miss Sunshine had the oh-so-likable Greg Kinnear, this flick survives comparisons with the charming leads of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt.
Set in New Mexico (getting flashbacks yet?), Sunshine is the story of sisters Rose (Adams) and Norah (Blunt), who have never dealt with the suicide of their mother and are always at odds with each other. Norah would rather sleep til noon and smoke weed than make it to her waitressing gig, and Rose, the former Homecoming Queen, is a struggling single mom and maid who is having an affair with her now-cop high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn). When Rose needs some extra cash to stick her son in a private school, her boyfriend gives her the idea to get in the corpse cleaning business, which is supposedly lucrative. Arkin is their zany dad who's always on the prowl for get-rick-quick schemes.
Soon Rose is giving up cleaning the homes of her former cheerleading squad to whiz about town in an old veedub van (continue flashbacks) with Norah in tow to cheerily scrub blood out of showers. There's a small sideplot that never quite goes anywhere involving Norah and Mary Lynn Rajskub.
What Little Miss Sunshine had going for it was its cute plot and rich characters. While Sunshine Cleaning almost reaches those goals in this quiet dramedy, it more than makes up for it in its leading ladies. Adams radiates the screen, and makes the audience cheer for her down-but-not out character. My only qualm with her is that I wanted to know what happened that made her fade from queen to lowly maid. On that note, I read one reviewer state that he didn't buy that two such beautiful and smart ladies could have no careers or good men in their lives. Clearly, this dude hasn't seen the state of the economy or dating scene out there... No matter, Adams packs warmth and humor into every scene, and is always a delight to watch.
Blunt complements Adams with her not quite as tough as she thinks, eyerolling attitude and deadpan delivery. Arkin is a delight as usual, but he's fairly wasted in the same role as Little Miss Sunshine. Sunshine Cleaning is a cheery little film with beautiful costars. It may not be overly memorable, but it's definitely worth checking out to forget all the woes of the real world for a couple of hours.
There are some films about relationships and love that ring true and inspire you, as Greg will tell you about (500) Days of Summer shortly, and then there are films which sting and hit too close to home in an uncomfortable way, and that's where Breaking Upwards comes into play. While it makes every couple in the audience squirm in their seats a bit, it doesn't necessarily resonate with the audience.
Breaking Upwards tells the (slightly fictionalized) tale of Daryl (Daryl Wein) and Zoe (Zoe Lister Jones), who after four years of dating have decided to slowly wean themselves off each other and break up in their own time--no muss, no fuss, no hurt feelings. Immediately you want to shake them, and scream, "You fools!" but alas, as this is based of the duo's real open relationship, you know it will not end very well.
There has been some talk about Breaking Upwards defining the generation of young twenty-somethings, who are too hip for their own good and too smart and lazy to do anything but whine and complain, but I don't really see it. Okay, yeah, you're name dropping G-Chat and Facebook, and dating has really changed in the past ten years, but that doesn't necessarily make the film stick with me. That's not the say the film isn't at all viable. Given that I'm a born and raised Texas gal, the realistic and intimate depictions of the New York Jewish culture made Woody Allen look like a caricature with his own Jewish portrayals.
And I did chuckle a few times, even I will admit. When Daryl and Zoe are determining which days to take "off," they immediately nix Tuesdays because American Idol is on. Some of the best performances are by the couple's parents, played to perfection by Andrea Martin, Peter Friedman and Julie White.
But ultimately the film doesn't hit as hard as it tries to. It feels like it wants to be this generation's Annie Hall, and it falls short by trying too hard, by being too "hip." Plus, I spent most of the movie wondering if Daryl wasn't really gay. It's not all bad, though. The lighting and cinematography are pretty impressive for what was probably a shoestring budget. The acting is fairly spot on, and the supporting characters are charming. I think just the writing grated on me too much to really want to like the film. Maybe it's ultimately like the reason Zoe wants to separate herself from Daryl in the first place: "I'm just bored."
Observe and Report writer Jody Hill loves bad guys. I don’t say that because Kenny Powers let Stevie Janowski take the fall for his car wreck in Eastbound and Down or because Fred Simmons was an ass-kicking yet inept karate instructor in The Foot Fist Way. "I like to write about bad guys more because they’re cool," he shrugged at the South by Southwest screening of his newest flick, Observe and Report. "They’re a lot more interesting, so I take bad guys and make them good guys.”
Hill spared no evil or endearing quality when he created the occasionally insane group of characters in Observe and Report. Mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) has lost touch with reality--a major character flaw that Hill loves to instill in his main characters. You’ll spend most of the movie incredulous to what Ronnie is doing and saying, but you can’t help but hope he figures out and gets his act together. It’s how impossibly close Hill’s characters come to nearly redeeming themselves before collapsing in a glorious, hilarious fashion that makes us keep watching.
However, that tale can only be told so many times in a given seating, which is where Observe misses its mark. The characters are well-developed, and the actors obviously grabbed their roles and ran with them, but there just wasn’t enough to keep the story moving. It was a series of side plots lumped together that happened to cluster around a central tale, which is quite flimsy when the final payoff is revealed. The movie is uproariously funny at certain points and held my interest, but I had trouble grasping what was the point of the movie. Twice I had to look at my watch because I wasn’t sure if there were 20 minutes left or a whole 'nother hour.
The story starts with Ronnie wanting to prove himself to those who doubted him by catching a flasher who keeps returning to his mall. Surly Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) is called in to assist in the investigation, much to the chagrin of Ronnie, who rallies his crack security squad of the Yuan twins and Michael Pena to help him solve the case. Meanwhile Ronnie lusts after mall makeup clerk Brandi (Anna Farris), who wants nothing to do with him, and ignores the girl who gives him coffee everyday, (Collette Wolfe) who would do anything for him. Ronnie struggles with being bipolar and the lack of respect he commands before the film comes to a head with the loss of his job.
Contrary to this review, I really enjoyed this movie. The characters are incredibly engaging, and after spending time working in a mall myself, I started to see some frightening similarities to people I was friends with. Michael Pena delivers the performance of a lifetime as the lisping sidekick. Unlike past roles where she tried desperately to win the audience over, Anna Farris was allowed to be mean and dirty because there was no caring for Brandi. Look her most hilarious scene, which is spoiled in the red band trailer, where she and Ronnie have drunken (albeit it not wild and crazy) sex.
I expect this film to find a second life on DVD, when people who were unwilling to pay $10 to see it in theaters get their hands on it, but this isn’t your typical frat boy comedy so don’t expect the cheap laughs — this is a thinking man’s comedy.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of Broken Lizard. Sure Super Troopers made me laugh, but BeerFest and Club Dread just made me shake my head. So, I was all ready to cue my skeptical face when Broken Lizard screened their newest comedy, The Slammin' Salmon, at SXSW this week. But, slap my ass and color me surprised when the skeptical face was replaced by howls of laughter. And I wasn't even shitfaced!
The film is about the owner of a restaurant who initiates a contest to see which of his waiters can earn the most money in a single night with a prize of $10,000 because he owes the Japanese mob money and needs to raise some 'skrilla fast. The loser is promised a broken rib sandwich by the owner and former boxing heavyweight champ, Cleon Slammin' Salmon (Michael Clark Duncan in his "who knew he was funny?" role).
For anyone who's worked in a restaurant, the flick rings true with all the dining shenanigans you'd expect: people making out in the walk in, eating off people's plates, and flat out lying to the patrons. Throw in creepy chefs and crazy assed waiters, it's a flashback to my hostessing days.
All the Broken Lizards star as waiters, and while they're funny, no one can beat out Clark Duncan's crazy ass non sequiturs--except for perhaps Jay Chandrasekhar as Nuts, the clinically insane waiter who runs around pantless and dreaming of kitties when he's off his meds. Clark Duncan is not in that terribly much of the film, but when he is, he steals the entire movie. It's rumored that some of Clark Duncan's lines were ad libbed, which really shows off his comedic chops of being wacky, crazy, and bad at math.
Seriously, although I liked I Love You, Man and while Anna Faris made me giggle in Observe and Report, I have not laughed harder this week than I did at this film. It's that funny. Sure, it's predictable, but if you can't laugh at the line "How are you feline?" you have no funny bone.
Things seem to be going pretty well for Christine. She has a good job as a loan officer at a bank, a rock star psychology professor boyfriend, and an adorable baby kitty cat at her luxurious home. She's a good person and doesn't really even stand up for herself when the new guy at the bank is angling for her promotion. So why would anyone want to eff with her? Well, when an old gypsy woman comes into the bank begging for a third extension on her mortgage, Christine decides to show a little initiative and backbone at work by doing what's best for the bank and denying the extremely creepy and downright disgusting woman. This sets the old gypsy off and she decides to curse our dear Christine with a demon who will torment her for three days before it eventually drags her to hell!
Sam Raimi has been away from the horror game for quite some time, but rest assured, he is far from rusty. The man who brought us the Evil Dead films, Spiderman, and DarkMan has managed to infuse his horror skills into all his films regardless of genre. So when it came time to dust off the buckets of blood, he assumed his role as expert spookologist like an adult revisiting a bike. Raimi may have grown up, but his film tactics sure haven't; Drag Me to Hell is just as campy, silly, and disgusting as you'd expect from a much younger director. Raimi has just been around so much and done this so many times before that he does it to perfection. He manages to balance the gross out moments, the humor, and the scares expertly to create a brisk, fun 90 minutes in a film. It's nice to see all his cinematic tricks at work, because really, I can't think of another horror director that leaves a trademark on the screen quite like Raimi.
The acting is pretty solid across the board with the adorable Alison Lohman anchoring the cast as our protagonist Christine. She also gets some good support with Justin Long as her caring boyfriend and Dileep Rao as a psychic who does his darndest to help her placate the demon and escape her impending fate. Lorna Raver as the gypsy Mrs. Ganush and Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza as the medium who can embody demons walk the perfect tip toe line between ridiculous and terrifying.
While the film is far from a masterpiece or cinematic perfection, it is a totally fun trip. The version I saw was a work in progress, but it seemed to require very little tinkering, as I felt it was a rock solid outing. I was pretty skeptical of the film after viewing the trailer, but rest assured the film is worth the trip. When release date for this bad boy rolls around, be prepared to be dragged to hell.
In its U.S. premiere, Favela on Blast filled every seat in the house. Granted, there can't be more than 150 seats at The Hideout Theatre and Coffeehouse in downtown Austin, but extra chairs and benches that were brought in were immediately filled. Unfortunately, quite a few of those seats were empty before the film ended, as viewers chose not to sit through the mind-numbing two hours of interviews that was passed off as a documentary.
Favela is the product of hip-hop deejay Diplo (aka Wesley Pentz) who has played a large role in taking the Brazilian funk culture worldwide. With an infectious beat and animated subject matter, I was sure this film would be very pleasing to the senses; I never guessed I’d be fighting to stay awake. With no narration the film struggled to find a direction. Interviews with emcees and deejays were linked back-to-back throughout the film with no real connection between each one. They had great stories to tell, but they were lost in the meandering thoughts of the artists.
This film is in desperate need of an editor and a central story based around one or more of the characters. Instead of seeing how much this culture was a part of life in the Favela we just heard about it. Viewers never understood why we were supposed to care about what these people were saying.
The concept of male camaraderie is not a novel one. Guys have been openly discussing the finer points of music, masturbation and life in general since they could effectively communicate; they’ve just been bashful in admitting their unabated love for one another. I Love You, Man effectively and hilariously knocks down that barrier, as Paul Rudd and Jason Segel will inspire buddies in man caves across the nation to chug beers, slap some bass and tell each other, “I love you, Tico Brohan.”
The film tells the story of Peter Klaven (Rudd), who has just gotten engaged to his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones), only to realize he doesn’t have anyone to be his best man. After a series of “mandates,” Klaven meets Sydney Fife (Segel), and the two bond over drinks and a love for playing Rush songs. At the height of their bromance, Zooey gets jealous and Peter must decide where his loyalties lie.
There isn’t much of a plot here--it's pretty much just a ruse to get Segel and Rudd hanging out on screen for 90 minutes--but the jokes are so consistent there doesn’t really need to be a story. While none of the jokes are particularly memorable, they rarely miss the mark so you’ll be laughing throughout. The script is smart and not as crass as you would think—there are only two barf scenes and no nut sacks. It was far from just taking your basic romantic comedy formula and applying it to two dudes, and that was refreshing. I was especially pleased that the film never got too sappy; the two friends simply admitted their love and moved on, just like two men really would.
With this role, Rudd secures himself a seat at the table of bankable comedy stars. The Judd Apatow veteran combined Michael Scott’s cluelessness with Rudd’s own cuddly personality that provided exactly what this movie needed—a guy that both dudes and chicks could relate to and laugh at. Segel was his typical self, and although it works for these films, I just don’t know how far it is going to get him. Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly were a nice complement, and Jones was surprisingly natural in her role (and devilishly beautiful at the screening.)
To all the guys out there, you no longer have to be afraid to admit how much fun you have with you pals, Peter and Sydney have knocked down the barriers and it is now okay to admit, I Love You, Man.
I have a confession to make. I love Jennifer Coolidge. No other actress can play as goofy and balls to the wall crazy as she can (See "Yo Stink" below.) That being said, even she--and the beautiful backdrop of the City of Austin--could not save ExTerminators.
Marking the feature film directing debut of Scrubs veteran John Inwood, ExTerminators is about three women who meet in anger management and accidentally kill a pal's abusive asshole husband. When word spreads that they will bump off shitty husbands, boyfriends, and exes, a pest control business turns to bigger and harder to kill animals. It sounds like an episode of that A&E TV show, don't it? Too bad there aren't any crazy mullets, though.
Starring Heather Graham in the final nail on the coffin of her once promising film career, ExTerminators is a film that could have been good instead of lukewarm (or as Greg put it "a streaming pile of feces spraying in my face.") It could have played up the dark humor a la Heathers and actually show the audience how these ladies plot their murders, but the flick makes The First Wives Club feel downright dark and heavy, and that film is as light and fluffy as they come. Maybe angry women would love this film, but honestly I'm tired of seeing women portrayed as either victims or angry crazy ladies plotting revenge. C'mon, folks, not all women are defined by men--shitty or no.
Graham doesn't do much besides wear glasses that make George Burns roll over in his grave, and even Coolidge is restrained, which is a damn shame. Local actress Amber Heard (Pineapple Express) reads like a film student as the angry pyro of the bunch. She became so distracting with her bad black wig, fading fake tattoo, and non-believable smoking. This sounds incredibly trivial, I know, but it becomes difficult to even focus on anything else when I can't even believe your character is actually smoking.
Sam Lloyd (sad, sad, Ted on Scrubs) doesn't add anything to the film either. All in all, Austin upstaged the three leading ladies, and it's perhaps for the best. Coolidge, better luck next time.
The energy crisis is over. The future has brought many things including permanent Moon colonization and harvesting of an H3 (helium 3) compound that can be utilized to create enough energy to provide Earth with over 70% of her needs. How do we harvest it? Well, an engineer is hired who works a three year contract in total isolation, essentially babysitting the lunar base and harvesting equipment with the aid of the bases faithful computer companion, GERTY.
Now I know how this one could look, but trust me when I say that Duncan Jones (David Bowie's son!) has crafted an intelligent and mind bending first feature. He plays with modern and vintage sci-fi conventions and delivers an amazing modern sci-fi masterpiece. It's not only that it plays with 70s and 80s conventions, it's that the film's pacing and storytelling and technique all feel as though the film is from another time. It's like it could have almost been a lost classic from the 70s finally getting released--the only difference being this film pays homage to those movies and plays with your expectations. Jones has also utilized some very retro film techniques, like miniatures and lens flaring, while minimizing his reliance on computer visual effects, and the film is the better for it. So many directors feel it necessary to have fancy explosions and ships in their films that they forget to focus on the story and characters. Because without a solid character, no one can buy into your story.
Which brings us to Sam Rockwell, the one man show, the anchor to this whole wonderful experience. Sam Rockwell has been tap dancing around super stardom for quite some time and I feel the guy is tremendously underrated. Rockwell really gets his moment to shine with this film, playing the full spectrum of emotion, while having you glued to your seat at every turn. He had me as enraptured as that charming Will Smith character did with I Am Legend, capturing moments of frustration and isolation and selling them to you so well that you feel them while watching .
This is the type of film experience that will be infinitely more rewarding the less you know about it, hence why the review dances around without getting into any real details. It's an independent sci-fi film, but Jones really has made $10 bucks look like a million. The film is expertly directed and wonderfully acted, and anyone would be hard pressed to not enjoy it.
Taking place in ancient Thailand, the treacherous power hungry Lord Rajasena thirsts for more. With his ever expanding borders, few dare to oppose him, and those who do don't live to tell the tale. The film starts with the murder of Lord Sihadecho and his soldiers, those who were still loyal to their country and not their new rules. The only survivor is Ting, Sihadecho's only son. Ting barely escapes Rajasena's attack and finds himself taken in and raised by a gang of bandits. These bandits teach Ting the various disciplines of martial arts and weapons. As Ting grows up, he learns to fuse all these lessons into one hybrid form of bad-assery and sets out on a quest for vengeance.
Sounds pretty awesome right? Well frankly I'm surprised I managed to muster a coherent synopsis of this Ong Bak prequel, because this film is a muddled mess. Tony Jaa, heir apparent to the Bruce Lee throne for martial arts kick-assetry, marks his writing and directing debut with one of the most incomprehensible films I have ever seen. The dialogue is ridiculous, but forgivable, the action is awesome, but a step down from the previous film, and the editing is downright horrendous. I was convinced for the majority of the film that the projectionist had somehow mixed up the reels, but no, this film really is that confusing. It jumps around in time without any regard for story consistency, plot progression or any other cinematic convention. It's almost as if the film was edited by escalation of fight scene, because that's the only real sense I could make out of it.
But surely the action makes up for it right? Well, yes and no. It was somewhere around the time Tony Jaa was leaping from elephant to elephant that I missed modern day Jaa and his car leaping, head elbowing self. The action is cool, and his mastery and execution of old school weaponry was impressive and inventive by any other action film standards, but it would have been nice to see a flying knee or two.
So while the film basically amounts to an overlong train wreck, I'd be hard pressed to say I went home disappointed. Because regardless of the way it gets to you, that little Thai man can fight, and it will always be worth your while. I just wish the film had been more of a traditional sequel, instead of a bloated unrelated, nonsensical prequel. But hey, on the bright side the film ends with a teaser for the currently in production Ong Bak 3.