Sunday, April 27, 2008


Written and Directed by Michael McCullers
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Sigourney Weaver and Steve Martin

Kate Holbrook: It’s nice to feel needed, useful, important.
Angie Ostrowiski: I like all of those words.

This one’s for the ladies! Here we have one woman, Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey), who cannot get pregnant and then enlists another woman, Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler) as her surrogate, or in the more contemporary sense, as her BABY MAMA. Angie leaves her dope of a common-law partner and moves in with Kate and the two go from cat fighting to slumber parties in no time. They’re having babies; they’re talking boys; they’re singing along to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in the living room. The estrogen practically slinks off the screen in stilettos. If only this expectant comedy didn’t deliver such expected results.

The female bonding originates with Fey & Poehler’s offscreen friendship and makes for some fabulous chemistry and spontaneous hilarity but it never successfully hides the gaping story holes. Having paid an exorbitant amount of money to a firm that screens its surrogates thoroughly should have essentially eliminated Angie as an option, as she has no functional understanding of what it means to take good care of herself. Before long, perhaps to intentionally rattle us from the unoriginal unfolding of the odd couple one would ordinarily expect, Angie’s intentions come into question in such a manner that it becomes practically impossible to continue letting the good times just go on. Good clean fun is replaced by awkward angst.

This contemporary comedy draws our attention to the business of babies. It does so however in such a hackneyed fashion that if it weren’t for the talented mama’s at the forefront of it all, it would be little more than a painful delivery.


Written and Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Starring John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart and Neil Patrick Harris

Harold: It’s not funny, Kumar. It’s not fucking funny.

Going to White Castle need not be a particularly challenging endeavor. For Harold & Kumar (John Cho & Kal Penn), two perpetual stoner best friends, it proved to be the most monumental of achievements. Still, no matter how difficult the terrain became en route toward 30 burgers, four large fries and countless free refills of soda, they never lost hope. They overcame ignorance, confidence issues and Neil Patrick Harris to get what they most desired and solidified an already rock solid friendship in the process. Picking up at exactly the same point HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE left off, HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY finds the boys packing their bags for a spur of the moment trip to Amsterdam and the jokes about perfect pubic hair and messy bowel movements follow suit. Nothing has changed essentially (except for perhaps Kumar, who looks as though all that burger weight went instantaneously to his face), but it feels somehow different. Somewhere within the first few frames, maybe when Kumar ejaculated on to his face, I don’t know, the high times come crashing down into a sobering and painfully unfunny trip.

Do you know what else works about two stoners determined to reach a burger joint destination? It’s plausible. It’s two ordinary guys in an even more ordinary situation that must surmount a series of extraordinary obstacles. The fact that they’re stoned the whole time only adds to the ridiculousness of it all, especially if you’re also stoned at home watching. Although I have yet to test the theory, I’m fairly certain watching Harold & Kumar’s second caper high might make the whole mess that much more tedious. And while I’m on the subject, where was the weed in this movie? Sure it isn’t all that likely that they would be able to find weed in Guantanamo Bay but scoring would be no less believable than their being there in the first place. Now we have a stoner movie where no one is getting stoned. What we’re left with instead is a dulled teen raunch movie designed for the mind of the adolescent male, the one at the back of the class sketching boobs and penises because he isn’t getting any action with either, when he should be paying closer attention to the history lesson being given.

I resigned myself to my fate when the expected groans grew from the groins of all the teenage boys in the audience at the thought of Harold & Kumar having to eat a cock-meat sandwich while in prison. If you’re wondering what kind of delicacy this sandwich might be, don’t. The name is self-explanatory. Naturally, the boys attempt an escape from Guantanamo rather than bite the sandwich, risking an almost certain death in the process. My hat is off to you for proving yet again what the obvious choice is between homosexual experimentation and death. With that, the gays are the first to be insulted by this horrifically ignorant film. While the film tries to expose the American population’s generalized views of minorities, it does so in such a ludicrous fashion that it actually reverses upon itself. Tempting Jews with loose change or making a black man in street wear a credible witness by arguing that he is actually an orthodontist are examples of the writers asking us to laugh at and not with the characters. Seeing as how the jokes are dead long before the punch arrives, the audience is given a lot of time to think about just how unfunny a Korean guy and an Indian guy in Klu Klux Klan garb actually is.

Two hours and I think I only laughed once (Thank you, NPH!). Harold & Kumar themselves barely seem to like each other so seeing as how they’re not having any fun, it sure isn’t easy for us to have any. Stepping up their game from just writing last time out to both writing and directing this time around proves to be too much at once for Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. Their script is aimless and rehashes a lot of the same shtick from the first film. Their style is … well, they don’t actually have one. The cult love Harold & Kumar found in the years since its initial release has gone directly to their heads and now they seem to live in this delusion that no effort is necessary and that they just have to show up to get the same results. Hmm, deluded, aimless and only funny to the guys telling the jokes, I guess it is a great stoner movie after all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Directed by Stephen Walker

British filmmaker, Stephen Walker, admits in the first few moments of YOUNG @ HEART that he fell in love instantly with the Massachusetts chorus of the same name the first time he saw them perform. He wasn’t lying. He loved them so much that he followed them around for seven weeks to document their rehearsal process and then edited his footage into a television documentary. As if that wasn’t enough love, he has now remade his documentary for theatrical audiences.

While Walker’s admiration may seem to border on obsession, it isn’t hard to see why the group inspired him so deeply. Young @ Heart is no ordinary singing chorus. The average age of the members is 81 and they don’t sing traditional hymns but rather punk classics by The Clash or contemporary rock ballads by Coldplay. A rigorous rehearsal schedule of three sessions a week and hours of private practice culminating in a full two act evening performance to a sold out concert hall would be demanding for trained professionals in their prime. These folks make it all look so easy but that certainly doesn’t mean it is as death is always lurking backstage. The whole thing certainly gives new meaning to lyrics like, “Should I stay or should I go?”

Though your heart goes out to the entire Young @ Heart chorus, Walker regrettably fails to inspire his audience the way the chorus does theirs. Ironically, his youth as a filmmaker undermines the experience, inciting only a hearty applause when there was clearly a standing ovation to be had.


Written by Jason Segel
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd & Bill Hader

The writer/star of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, Jason Segel, is the kind of artist who isn’t afraid to let it all hang out there for everyone to see and subsequently appreciate or pick apart. He writes his pain on to the screen and isn’t afraid to get naked on the path to true understanding. In the writer’s world, naked is a fairly obvious metaphor for vulnerability but here it just means nude. And so, as Segal’s penis flaps back and forth against his painfully pale body, moments before Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) breaks up with him, the Judd Apatow movie machine unleashes its latest raw comedy from the mind of the modern male.

This particular male is Peter Bretter (Segel), a slob who can barely pick up after himself but somehow manages to maintain a serious relationship with a gorgeous actress girlfriend and holds down a job as a composer for schlock television. He’s not unattractive nor without his charms but he does raise the question as to how he ever managed to get himself this well positioned. He also has no trouble at all finding numerous beautiful women to help him take his mind off Sarah. And while forgetting Sarah Marshall proves much more complicated than Peter had hoped - it doesn’t help that they have found themselves both at the same Hawaiian resort – he can at least have the last laugh by vilifying her as a horrible human being before the credits role. Without giving too much away, he will have the option, as the sympathetic character, to walk away happy but Sarah, as the heartbreaker, has been doomed since Hester Prynne was sent to prison with that darn scarlet letter across her chest.

If I were Apatow, I would be a little tired of hearing my name being attached to all of these projects. If anything, he should make sure to have a firmer hand in the process in the future. FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL is not without the hilarity and genuine character development that his past productions have captured so poignantly but its bizarre subplots and many rushed moments make it somewhat forgettable.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Written by Mark Poirier
Directed by Noam Murro
Starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page

Vanessa Wetherhold: What is it like being stupid?
Brooke: It’s like sitting alone at lunch every day.

For a movie about supposedly clever individuals, SMART PEOPLE isn’t very smart. In fact, it shows its lack of intelligence almost instantly when it opens with a sequence of scenes that establish what a self-involved, miserable jackass college professor, Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is, with the subtlety of an international fireworks competition. He can’t remember the names of his students. He can’t be bothered to honour his office hours. He doesn’t even have the time of day for his adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). He is coarse with everyone he meets and shows disdain for everything life throws at him. First time filmmaker, Noam Munro, then expects us to dig deep into our already put off hearts and find some sympathy for this devil of a man. Barely five minutes have passed and you know exactly what to expect. Lawrence will meet a girl before long and she will show him that as smart as he thinks he is, he’s got oh so much more to learn about living and loving life. Seeing as how the premise is overdone and the man in desperate need of change is completely unlikable, I’m thinking they might have wanted to put a little more thought into this one before declaring it smart.

And find a woman, Lawrence does. After suffering a concussion from falling off a fence, Lawrence is reconnected with a former student of his that went on to become an E.R. doctor, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). Reconnected is not exactly the right choice of words as he does not remember her whatsoever. He is not the least bit kind to her, just like when he was her professor way back when, and all of their interactions are awkward and unsatisfying. Yet, she shows no hesitation when he asks her out for a “face to face” (that’s smart people talk for “date”). First time screenwriter, Mark Poirier, might want to look up the meaning of “motivation”. What incentive is there for this successful doctor to go out with this pompous man? While we’re on the subject, why does a man so content in his misery suddenly make a move toward potential happiness? Smart, well-rounded characters make their own decisions and do things for a reason. These types of script progressions make sense and create meaning instead of simply serving the plot. In this scenario, we are left to watch a relationship grow out of nothing and therefore have no stake in its success.

As if Lawrence’s obnoxious presence weren’t enough, he seems to have passed on all of his “better” traits to his teenage daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page). Vanessa excels at everything she does and does not for a moment let life get in the way of these successes. Not surprisingly, she has no life outside of this. Having lost her mother an undetermined time ago, she desperately craves her father’s approval and attention. Thankfully for her, her uncle, Chuck, can come to her emotional rescue just like Dr. Hartigan is doing for her Dad. Thankfully for us, all the actors involved are talented enough to bring as much depth as is physically possible to these thin characters. Now we have a detestable father-daughter duo and two saviors. What we don’t have is a reason to care. While it makes sense for Vanessa to emulate her role model, we still have no idea why Lawrence is so unhappy. Seeing as how he can’t seem to part with his dead wife’s clothes, one could infer that he gave up after her death but he was apparently just as loathsome in his earlier teaching days. The story seems to be pushing him to get over something but doesn’t bother establishing what it is he has to get over.

SMART PEOPLE seems to imply that people who are smart do not know how to be happy, are completely selfish individuals and essentially think that they are better than everyone else. Not only have these inferences been made countless times but they are also the worst kinds of clichés, the kinds that are based on ignorance and untruths. Murro and Poirier jump in and out of moments in these characters’ experiences without explaining how they got there, why we should care or where they’ll go when it is all done. All they seem concerned with is making their hackneyed point and using as many big words as possible in the process. In the end, SMART PEOPLE is just plain dumb.


Written by Ligiah Villalobos
Directed by Patricia Riggen
Starring Kate des Castillo, Eugenio Derbez and Adrian Alonso

Rosario: I don’t know any US history.
Paco: That’s easy. First they screwed the Indians; then they screwed the slaves; and now they’re screwing the Mexicans.

A mother gets up before the sun rises on Los Angeles to take the first of many buses to get to the first of her two housecleaning jobs. Elsewhere, in Mexico, her nine-year-old son still sleeps soundly in his bed. Before she left him over four years prior, she told him that should he ever find himself lonely and missing her, that he need only look up to moon in the sky and know that she too would be looking and thinking of him. In that thought, both the title and the dualistic tone are set for a surprisingly poignant piece about the borders that keep both countries and people apart. Director Patricia Riggen’s UNDER THE SAME MOON is a brave film that proudly puts a face to an issue that has polarized America. While the main focus surrounds precocious Carlito (Adrian Alonso) as he crosses the US/Mexican border to find his mother after a family death leaves him alone, his journey draws attention to the plight of a people who want only to pursue a better future for their families. It is soft and sweet one moment, difficult and tense the next, but always subtle and sensitive. Its significance is found in its simplicity – while our heart strings are being tugged, our eyes are also being opened.

When Rosario (Kate del Castillo) stares up at the moon, the longing to be with her son is matched only in magnitude by the constant wondering if all of her sacrifice is worth the trouble. The contradictory nature of her existence is a heavy burden to bear. She demeans herself daily cleaning the house of a wealthy woman who treats her like a second class citizen and then has to clean another house and sew dresses nightly in order to put any money aside. As every hour of every day disappears without notice or meaning, years go by without seeing her son. She must work so hard in order to provide him with the possibility of a brighter future and this sacrifice is truly great. For as she slaves away the days, sure to always be on the lookout for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, her son is growing up without her. She has foregone the potential of her own happiness and cut herself off from the one remaining source of joy in her life. The decision she made years ago to cross the border has now drawn another line between mother and son that she knows may one day be too thick to be erased.

When Carlito stares up at the moon, the longing to be with his mother is matched only in magnitude by the bewilderment derived from feeling abandoned. He cannot reconcile his mother’s love still felt in his heart and the reality of their situation. Four years after she left, his faith is finally faltering. While Rosario’s daily renunciation is a testament to conviction and hope, Carlito’s mission to make his way from Mexico to L.A. gives the film a heartbreaking tenderness while still tersely telling the truth of his tale. A boy willing to go to such great lengths just to be with his mother may sound saccharine in nature but there is nothing sweet about a nine-year old hitchhiking in Tucson, working wherever he can to pay for bus fare or nearly being sold into child prostitution. Ligiah Villalobos’s lean screenplay never loses sight of the prize long enough to find itself off course but it is also never afraid to talk about the reality illegal immigrants must face on the streets of a supposedly great country. The dichotomy between sappy and serious is what makes UNDER THE SAME MOON so effective. While we want with great desperation to see mother and son reunite, we are also exposed to the reality imposed by our own ignorance upon such innocent hopefuls.

Once upon a time, America used to be the land of the free. People the world over would immigrate in pursuit of the elusive American dream. Things are very different now. Now there is the threat of terrorism, economic unrest and generally widespread panic and fear. To be foreign is to be frightening. All of our misconceptions dehumanize those involved and in a backwards fashion, somehow glamorize the experience. UNDER THE SAME MOON is a fine, refreshing film that gives a voice to those who are so seldom heard in a fashion that will allow it be heard by many. And for all the tears and warmth it brings to the viewer, perhaps its crowning achievement is that all who see it will inevitably find themselves staring up at the night sky shortly afterward, realizing that we all live under that very same moon no matter how many lines are drawn between us.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Written by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly
Directed by George Clooney
Starring George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski and Jonathan Pryce

Reporter: They got a completely different style; how are you going to adjust to that?
Carter Rutherford: Maybe they’ll just adjust to me.

Every seat in the stands is filled. The screams from the crowd almost eclipse the sound of the marching band. It is 1925 and both the country and its interest in college football is thriving. Meanwhile, at a game just a few fields away, a spectator could practically get an entire bench to themselves; a cow on the field goes unnoticed; and the entire thing could be called off because there is no spare football to be found when the game ball goes missing. Given today’s interest in the sport, it seems implausible to say but this second game is actually being played by the professionals. Apparently, back in the 20’s, America encouraged their young men to get on the field and toss the ball around for their amusement but expected them to grow up and be real men once college and the game were done. LEATHERHEADS, George Clooney’s third time behind the lens of a feature film, follows one man’s refusal to play by the rules and his quest to legitimize the boys who would rather play than become productive members of society.

With Randy Newman’s swing jazz score keeping the tone lively and the entire cast generally looking like they’re having a blast, it is a wonder that LEATHERHEADS falls as flat as it does. It’s got the look, the style and the attitude but it lacks the luster and the laughs necessary to transport the audience to a time when comedy meant screwball instead of raunchy. First time feature writers, Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, go back over 80 years to tell their story but while recreating the proper language lends to the credibility of the scenario, writing in jokes that are just as old as the story itself does nothing to inspire a single guffaw. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A guy and a gal are having words and the lady says, “I didn’t come here to be insulted.” Without pause, the man retorts, “No, where do you usually go?” You aren’t laughing, are you? I told you to stop me. Still, it may be unfair to lay the blame entirely on Brantley and Reilly as the script itself has a few years on it. Originally written over fifteen years ago, only a few original scenes made it into Clooney’s revised version but with the bare essentials intact, Clooney was not awarded any writing credit for his overhaul.

This particular caper finds Clooney as Dodge Connolly, a forty-five year old professional football player that has no other skills other than playing it rough on the field. When his team seems to be headed for extinction due to lack of interest and therefore funds, he must make the country take notice of professional football or find a real job. To do this, he enlists Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (Krasinski) out of college ball and turns him pro. This puts the crowds in the seats instantly and draws the attention of the media to a franchise they thought to be fumbling. One journalist in particular, Lexie Littleton (Zellweger), is sent in from Chicago to debunk the star player and soon enough, both Dodge and The Bullet are vying for her attentions. Clooney’s got his Cary Grant face on, Zellweger’s back in her Roxie Hart mode and Krasinski’s just got a face that beams with earnestness that you can’t help but love the guy. All around, the film is perfectly cast but everyone plays their part by the book. Funny how a film that makes such a strong statement about how rules ruined the game of football is so afraid of breaking any.

Clooney is a formidable director. His last effort, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, earned him well-warranted accolades and he proves once again with LEATHERHEADS that he is capable of assembling all the proper elements necessary to design a particular tenor. His issue here is that there are perhaps too many factors to consider and he loses sight of the whole and how that final product will come across to the audience. Unlike the players on the field, Clooney seems afraid to dive into the mud and get his film a little dirty. Every aspect is so polished but the game just isn’t as exciting if nobody gets their uniform dirty. And just because a play works on paper, doesn’t mean it will score your team a touchdown.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Written by Mark Richard and Kimberly Pierce
Directed by Kimberly Pierce
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum, Timothy Olyphant and Abbie Cornish

Steve Shriver: Shit, I’m gonna miss blowing things up.

A bunch of American army boys piss away their time at camp, horsing around and yelling obscenities at each other while they wait their next posting. The style is gritty and raw. There are no Hollywood glamour shots of pretty boy stars, Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum or Joseph Gordon-Levitt; there is just confusion over where their day is headed. Before long, the team is manning a road blockade. Director Kimberly Pierce keeps the framing and the editing tight in this opening sequence and shoots the intensity high into the clear-blue, Iraq sky. Each car that approaches the young, scattered soldiers could be a disaster. One second they’re lusting over a girl back home, the next they find themselves in the middle of a full-on ambush. The lot of them all fall into line and show what good soldiers are made of – boys that become men in a moment’s notice without thinking. And then they fight. Moves are made in as calculated a fashion as is allowed in the back alleys of a foreign land. Some of the men live and some die fighting. Within minutes, STOP-LOSS has you and then without warning, the film suddenly turns into a hip-hop musical montage, establishing the stop-and-start pulse of the film that ultimately leaves it for a loss.

It has been nearly ten years since Pierce made her fearless directorial debut with BOYS DON’T CRY. It was a commanding assault on the viewer’s nerves with each scene building panic and mounting anxiety. You were never given a chance to breathe and the tragic story it told became unforgettable as a result. This is why it is all so strange to see her impose breaks upon the viewer. Not only does it grind the flow to a halt in the dirt but it also exposes the need to repackage the current wave of Iraq war themed films. On the one hand, it makes some sense to cut the film together in an MTV-inspired style to market the war to the generation that is actually fighting it (it should also be noted that the film is MTV produced). On the other hand though, this approach subsequently comes across as a compromised version of Pierce’s potential vision. That said, perhaps the new design is necessary in order to get the film’s important message across and heard.

The message in this latest condemnation of the Iraq war effort is to bring attention to the “stop-loss” process. The term itself refers to the army’s right to force soldiers into another tour of duty at the end of the term they voluntarily signed up for. It is only supposed to be invoked when the war is still ongoing so you can imagine the outrage felt by Brandon King (Phillippe) as he is expecting to be signing his discharge papers and is told instead that he is shipping back to Iraq. Infuriated by his government’s backdoor approach to get around the lack of a draft, Brandon goes AWOL in search of a way out. While taking advantage of the soldiers that enlisted freely to fight for their country is appalling enough, it becomes even more so when you see how messed up the returning soldiers have become after balancing being boys and being men in such devastating situations. Pierce’s subtle presentation of the young men of Middle America is smart enough not to exaggerate their psychological damage but their table manners speak volumes to make her point. These are men who cannot carry on a conversation without recounting atrocious experiences they suffered through and have no concept of how uncomfortable they are making everyone around them. Another tour of duty could reasonably crush them if it doesn’t kill them. With that in mind, Brandon’s escape is not just warranted but imperative.

At one point, Brandon makes a homecoming speech to the people of his Texas town. Midway, he is overwhelmed by how much he has been affected by the simple sights and smells of his home and he cannot go on. Everything he was fighting for becomes clear to him but a fellow officer interrupts his speech in favor of a more crowd-rousing message. People don’t want to face the reality of the war; they just want to hear that their side is winning. And while Pierce’s point is important and still firmly made, it is impossible to feel as if this film that took so many years to make is actually the film she intended and not a film that was designed to profit from a specific market. Still, it is worth applauding for providing a product that will be most enjoyed and appreciated by the demographic that is actually fighting on the front lines as opposed to an older generation that until now has been able to just sit back in the theatre and quietly criticize the war from afar.