NJtoTX

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Reviews

Superbad
(2007)

Raunch with a little intelligence
Superbad is like reading Playboy for the articles as well as the retouched pictures. If you like a little intelligence with your raunchy dick jokes and crotch rubbing, if you go along gleefully with completely implausible situations and hit-or-miss American Pie-ish humor, Superbad is the movie for you. The dick that had me laughing the hardest was juxtaposed with Tiananmen Square on screen, if you can believe that.

Evan (Micheal Cera) is the voice of reason that keeps the core of the film real, and he has enough chemistry with his blustery buddy Seth (Jonah Hill) to make the resolution satisfying and believable.

The girls all have personalities, which is a plus for a film like this.

The weakest parts of the film are those that include the writer, Seth Rogan, who along with Bill Hader play cops who are less competent and more broadly ridiculous than their Keystone Kop ancestors. But Fogell, a.k.a. McLovin, (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who transitions from timid and panicked in their company, keeps some of these scenes from hurting the film.

All in all, a fun time, if not a top-notch movie.

Zoo
(2007)

Dreamy documentary that fails to convince
Zoo is a dreamy, slow-moving documentary about those who "love" animals and the fraternity that developed to make it possible for others to do so. It tries just a little too hard to show a sympathetic, understanding and otherwise balanced view of this activity. It's almost as if this were a film assignment given to the filmmakers, i.e. "your task is to take this activity, as well as the death involved, and convince the class to empathize and sympathize with those involved." Just in case you don't get the point of view espoused by the film and the awareness it wants you to attain, it ends with the one person close enough to the animals, a female veterinarian, stating her newfound understanding of these people. The extra prod did not sway me, and as such, Zoo fails at an impossible task.

Frownland
(2007)

This is a film that abuses its audience
I saw this film at SXSW with the director in attendance. Quite a few people walked out, and the audience could barely muster even polite applause at the end. Of the 60 or 70 films I've seen at this festival, Frownland is among the worst.

At 106 minutes, it is at least 95 minutes too long. You get to watch the main character's failed and drawn out attempts to communicate, in extended real time. The same grimaces, hand over mouth motions, kinetic and frantically repeated words and syllables over and over and over again - WE GET THE POINT.

One site actually compares this work to early Mike Leigh. What drugs would you have to be on to make that statement? Given that Frownland is a Captain Beefheart song, maybe you'd have to be able to enjoy Trout Mask Replica on heavy rotation to appreciate this film. Unbelievably, this won a jury award at the festival. You can bet it did not win an audience award.

August the First
(2007)

Terrific film!
I had the pleasure of seeing August the First at SXSW this week. Of the 20 plus films I've seen at the festival, this has been the best. I'm still emotional about it.

This is an intense, heartbreaking family drama with an excellent script and stellar acting performances. But there's nothing over-the-top or exaggerated. Tunde's graduation party becomes the scene of a reunion, unwanted by all but Tunde, with a father who had abandoned his family 10 years earlier, moved to Nigeria, and started a new family there.

I really got to know these characters. I was particularly impressed with Joy Merriweather as Tunde's mother Rhonda, drinking to try to alleviate her pain and resentment, and by Kerisse Hutchinson as Simisola, the daughter who can't forget. Oh, and by Sean Phillips as big brother Ade and Ian Alsup as the idealistic Tunde. Oh, and by Dennis Rubin Green as the father, and by everyone else as well.

I really hope this makes it to general release and DVD.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon
(2006)

Just a Simple Summary to those of us who were already paying attention
For those of us who followed Lennon and the Beatles through those tumultuous years, this was a simple summary that really didn't break any ground or uncover any new information. The filmmakers were more excited to find a few pieces of lost or mislabeled footage, such as Lennon being given his green card, than to enlighten those of us who were along for the ride all along. But it was good to hear from John again, even to say "flower power didn't work, so what? You do something else." No coverage was given John's activism or lack thereof during his infamous "lost weekend." Yoko's constant presence saw to that.

But I would love for my son and his generation to see it. Much of what is going on today has gone unchallenged, and the return of the J. Edgar Hooverization of America has been obvious to those of us who were awake back then.

Idiocracy
(2006)

Intelligent film about a future without intelligence
First, let me say that although I generally appreciate Mike Judge's work, I've been merely tepid in my response to Office Space, King of the Hill, and Beavis and Butthead. I generally prefer more intelligent comedy, and therein lies the irony with respect to Idiocracy.

In a future world where the embodiment of Beavis and Butthead's views, basest instincts, and intellectual capacities are the framework of a chaotic, messy, semi-Mad Max semi-Blade Runner society, where every trailer-trash guy's fantasy becomes reality, a man with even average intelligence is threatening and accused of talking gay, and the mob mentality takes over. And this world is also incredibly funny.

Yes, it's obvious that Carl's Jr., Starbucks, Costco and Fuddruckers executives will be horrified at the twisted values given their products in the year 2505.

There were some missed opportunities with the film, and the relationship between the time travelers - the other being an average intelligence woman who's worried about her boyfriend's (pimp's) retribution - could have been stronger; the chemistry is there. And there don't seem to be too many women in the future.

I did leave with a grin on my face, but the experience is a bit better than the memories. Thus, it's my kind of popcorn film, and it will be fun to revisit on video. Recommended! FYI stay through the credits for an extra scene.

Neil Young: Heart of Gold
(2006)

Neil Young meets Stop Making Sense
At South By Southwest today, I saw the excellent new Jonathan Demme film on Neil Young performing in Nashville, Neil Young: Heart of Gold. Good to see the Demme style applied to a great artist. Neil had just gotten over his aneurysm surgery and the loss of his father, so it was an emotional show. It's worth it to see it on the big screen.

As in Stop Making Sense, there were no shots of the audience. When asked about that in Q & A, Demme said "If there isn't one thing up on stage more interesting than the audience, you shouldn't be up there performing." Piece of trivia: When Neil first became a rich hippie, he bought a large ranch that he still has. An old caretaker took him by Jeep around the property and they came to an overlook. The man asked "How can a young guy like you afford a place like this?" Neil wrote Old Man for him.

Forgiving the Franklins
(2006)

This film has stayed with me
As I've hopped from film to film at the SXSW Film Festival, this film from the opening night has stayed with me. Curious, because it is a dark comedy with quite an absurdist premise.

A family of hyper-stressed fundamentalists in a small community of like minds is changed by an auto accident. Three of the four have the same near-death experience in which they are fully opened, as each receives a reversal of the concept of original sin (I won't spoil this scene with the specifics). The fourth, a middle school cheerleader, is not just the only one physically hurt, but also is unchanged and is now witness to what has become her crazy, apparently spiritually bankrupt, family. Every new moment brings a new outrageousness as they have become innocently naked and frank in every way, horrifying her and then the community.

Forgiving the Franklins has the most beautiful sexual awaking scene between a husband and wife that I have ever seen, to the Sarah Brightman song "Deliver Me," a song that can now bring tears to my eyes.

The cast is terrific. Robertson Dean as the dad, Vince Pavia as the son and Aviva as the cheerleader daughter are excellent, Mari Blackwell plays Peggy, the mom's questioning neighbor and best friend perfectly, a much more nuanced, fleshed out, real character than what might have been (everyone in middle America knows a Peggy). And Theresa Willis positively glows as Betty, the mom. There are lots of risks taken by the actors playing the three changed characters, and these risks pay off.

I hope this film gets a wide release - if so, I plan to see it again.

Very accurate review at: http://www.fosteronfilm.com/phil/forgiving.htm

Gretchen
(2006)

An Embarrassment
Gretchen is an attempt at a farce-based dark comedy about a dorky, stuttering, clumsy high school student who is having an extremely difficult time communicating, to say the least. Courtney Davis looks about 10 years too old for the part of Gretchen, who acts about 8 years old, keeps falling for grubby long-haired guys who look like Meat Loaf, are apparently mentally retarded, and who will assuredly ultimately betray her ("do you know what a pattern is, Gretchen?). And then there's dad.

It's The Jerk meets Benny and Joon, with a only a touch of Welcome to the Dollhouse. And it is slow.

Many in the audience found it funny, but many in the audience worked on the film or knew the filmmakers. When a big cheer goes up for the key grip credit, you haven't exactly been hearing an accurate audience reaction to a film.

By the way, I really liked Punch Drunk Love (see other User comment).

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic
(2005)

What Sarah says and how she presents it differ
I saw this film on Christmas Day. It was pretty obvious that the audience was just a wee bit, shall we say, Jewish??? This definitely got her some points - we were all comfortable laughing and not worried about how it would go over with the goyim.

There is a bit in the film involving her understudy, which applies well to what has been written in reviews here. Those who 'get' Sarah and her humor don't care to hear someone else deliver the lines. So when you see quoted material in reviews here that ask 'now how is that funny?' I submit that they don't know the difference between Sarah Silverman and the understudy. I can't tell you why it's funny, but it's her personality that sells the jokes.

Actually, I forgot virtually all the lines and jokes the instant the movie ended. And that's not a bad thing - the film 'right-brained' me. It wasn't perfect, missed at times, and I was a bit tired going in. But I left with a big smile on my face and those others who analyze the words didn't.

FYI - If you like this film, catch Sarah in The Aristocrats.

Dazed and Confused
(1993)

I hate being this disappointed
The film was on my must-see list for so long. The DVD traveled home with me from the library countless times, only to be returned unwatched with fines. But I knew that the director of such terrific films as Before Sunrise and Waking Life couldn't produce a dud. At the very least, it would have inspiring dialog and interesting characters.

But I saw nothing of Linklater's touch in D & C (it had about the same appeal as watching an abortion). It could have been directed by whoever did Revenge of the Nerds (which I liked) or countless other films celebrating high-school cruelty, initiations, hazing, abuse, and the wonderfully brutal rites of organized humiliation. The fact that it rings so true for my fellow Texans is a sad indictment of their pus- infected home towns. Their laughter merely suggests that they'd been the bullies, or at least not the victims, and thus can enjoy watching it all happen again to others.

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party
(2005)

If you liked Swimming to Cambodia and My Dinner with Andre
Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party is another of the rare series of opportunities to listen to a master storyteller. Director, cameraman, and friend of Stephen's, Robert Brinkmann, knows that this will be a tough sell to distributors. Yet it shouldn't.

Imagine attending a party where there is one guy who's had such an unusual life and been thrown into amazing life situations (such as having a gun to his head in a 7-11 for close to an hour while SWAT teams gathered outside). Not only that, the guy can tell the story and move his body as if he's back there. You become privileged to be a listener. That's what happens in ST's Birthday Party. The most fun is when he tells about the list he faxed in to Buzz magazine to demonstrate why he is one of the 100 "coolest people," such as being honored by monks in Thailand by being beaten with sticks.

There are a few liberties taken with the party itself. It took several days to film. Some of the younger friends attending are Robert's, not Steven's friends. Several takes were filmed a few times, but the first take always was the one used. And, well, it wasn't actually Steven's birthday. But the stories are all true. And the dolphins that showed up while they filmed at the beach actually did show up then.

Unfortunately for me, there was one young blonde guest whom I could not take my eyes off. I guess that comes with the territory of being at a very good party. You won't want to miss this one.

Showgirls
(1995)

Enthralling, and not bad at all
I'm glad I didn't turn this off 20 minutes in, thinking that it was basically what I'd heard and expected. Despite all the early embarrassing missteps and clunky lines delivered by Ms Berkeley, the film actually grew into an experience that I didn't want to turn off. It's ten times as good as Striptease.

It's not Citizen Kane, but it's not a soft-core porn version of Rock Star (awful film) either. Most of the characters were well-developed and believable, even it the situations were not. And there's plenty of humor, the vast majority of it intentional.

I'm wondering if most of the heavy derision of the film comes from Puritanical attitudes, rather than from an honest evaluation. If unromanticized sex and heavy nudity -- literally, in the case of one character -- make you (or your viewing companions) uncomfortable, Showgirls probably not for you.

I enjoyed it and would watch it again.

Up in Smoke
(1978)

Hilarious moments, and yet...
This movie starts out brilliant and has some of the funniest gags ever filmed. And yet I was dying for it to end and turned it off for days at a time.

Don't get me wrong, I love stoner characters and have a fond memory of those times. And don't get me started on the nonsensical and draconian "War on Drugs."

Ultimately, there are just too many long stretches of dumb dialog, pointless action, and missed opportunities.

It's a tough one to rate, but I'm being generous at 6/10, just for the sight of that police dog...

Super Size Me
(2004)

Funnier than Michael Moore
Many comparison's have been made to Michael Moore's "documentary" style. Spurlock's "Super Size Me" is funnier, more authentic, and less sarcastic than a Moore film, but takes on the serious issues of obesity and pre-fab school lunch programs as well. Watching Spurlock descend into the pit of fast-food hell with a grin on his face is a kick as he pokes fun, sometimes graphically, at his body's own reactions to the "food." Meanwhile, his doctors are seeing red flags and his vegan wife wants to shake some sense into him.

Criticisms have been leveled at Spurlock with respect to his calorie intake and lack of exercise during the 30-day period, but no matter. It was still only a month, and the extent of his problems is still a shock.

I was lucky enough to see this at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March with a large audience that was so animated and wild that their laughter sometimes drowned out the the next line of dialog (well, *that* aspect wasn't so lucky). At the time McDonalds had announced the elimination of supersizing - definitely in anticipation that the film would hit big.

I'm hoping the film does well, but I have to admit - with all the McImages coming at me, I've been really craving a Quarter PounderĀ®.

Knots
(2004)

I just can't describe how good this film is!
It all begins with a bored married couple moving to Manhattan, huge happy faces on every box.

In an incredibly funny film about relationships (Director Greg Lombardo describes it as a comedy about our search for connection and the romantic disasters we survive along the way), Scott Cohen finds out painfully that his marriage is in trouble, and things unravel and ravel and unravel again from there. I have a feeling that quite a few quotes will end up here after the film gets a general release.

Paulina Porizkova, as a vixen with an evil grin who seems to enter the fray from all sides, is the big surprise, as she creates a supporting role deserving of an Academy Award nomination.

Also great are John Stamos, Annabeth Gish, and Tara Reid. I want the DVD now! Edit: I've got it!

Rick
(2003)

Rick O'Lette as Rigoletto
Rick, well received at the SXSW festival this year, is a faithful modernization of Giuseppe Verdi's 1851 tragic opera "Rigoletto," which was also a reworking of Victor Hugo's "Le Roi s'amuse." I did not realize this until the Q & A period following the film, and it made all the difference.

Without the tie to the opera, the film will be judged too much on the curse of believability, and that is a shame.

The trio of Pullman, Aaron Stanford as Duke a.k.a. Bigboss, and especially Agnes Bruckner pull off strong performances.

The dark moods and sound of the film are terrific, and the use of anonymous Internet sex chat to set up the relationship between Rick's boss and his daughter Eve (Agnes Bruckner) works well.

Rick does have some difficulties. The crucial misfire is an absurd plot contrivance used to set up a mistaken identity.

Director Curtiss Clayton has had difficulty distributing this film that has everything going against it in today's market - Pullman's unlikable main character Rick O'Lette, lack of a happy ending, and if Clayton mentions Rigoletto as the basis of the film, he is met with blank stares. Hopefully, he'll run into one opera-savvy distributor and get Rick beyond the film festivals, at least into the art houses.

8.5/10

Surviving Eden
(2004)

Wonderfully funny
Surviving Eden just made a surprise appearance at the South By Southwest film festival, and it is a terrific, hilarious indictment of modern-day reality TV and the 15-minute celebrities it creates and spits out (William Hung, are you listening?). The audience really delivered the cheers at the end credits.

Writer/director Greg Pritican has taken the absurd mockumentary styles of Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run," mixed in an homage to Peter Sellers films, notably "Being There" and the Clouseau/Cato dynamic - and created a film that is outrageous, funny, and important as well.

Michael Panes stars as Dennis, a clumsy, obese loser brought up in a white-trash environment by obese mom Conchata Ferrell. Dennis is entered into a reality-TV 'Eden' competition by his best buddy, Sterno, played masterfully by Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent). Pritican has a family member who works on "Survival," so there is definitely a good-natured zing being delivered here as the contestents are tossed from Eden.

Jane Lynch shines as a tell-it-like-it-is co-executive producer with a nose for coke, Savannah Haske is a nun as you've never known, and SNL's Cheri Oteri is terrific as a take-no-prisoners hanger-on.

And there is the humor of how Dennis' fame affects the lifestyles of those close to him, such as his pet pig.

The film as presented in the festival was still unfinished, and some great music choices may not make the final cut. I recommend you see it as soon as it comes out. The big screen will help - there are many comic touches in every frame that should be taken in.

9.5/10

Code 46
(2003)

Blade Runner meets Minority Report meets shrug
I just attended the U.S. premiere of this film, at the Paramount Theater in Austin. It was given the honor of opening the SXSW - South by Southwest - film festival, based upon a festival honcho having seen it in Toronto and thinking "This HAS to open SXSW."

It is a film of great style and little substance. William (Tim Robbins) is an investigator who has been given a virus that enables him to read minds with only a bare amount of personal information. Maria (Samantha Morton) becomes the focus of his investigation, as well as his personal interest.

There are several good ironic laughs and impressive futuristic aspects. But the attraction between the leads seems too quick and never really grabs as authentic. I found that I developed more empathy for tangential characters, such as William's son and a doomed traveler, than for the leads.

Morton's dialog is often difficult to make out, drowned out by background music or undecipherable due to her accent. Strangely, despite otherwise tame sex scenes showing no upper body nudity from her, one shot pans up slowly past her visible privates. Definitely a candidate for some editing before general release.

I saw a few in the large audience leave early, and there was a smattering of polite applause at the end. All in all, I'm glad there are other films to see.

5/10

Punch-Drunk Love
(2002)

I've HATED Adam Sandler's films ... until this one!
It's true. The last thing I recall liking of Sandler's was Opera Man on SNL. Since then, I couldn't stand that stupid voice or a single trailer or segment featuring him. It took a lot of cajoling and promises from friends that he doesn't do "the voice," but I held my breath and watched.

Aaah, this film was slowly-paced, unique, emotionally gripping, and Sandler never does "the voice." In fact, at once point, I heard myself say "C'mon Barry," because he had sold me on being the character. And I just love Emily Watson - she never fails to amaze me.

So for those of you wanting or expecting Happy Billy Gilmore Madison the Waterboy, you will be sadly disappointed.

And that, I am very glad to say. 3 1/2 stars, 9/10, and both my thumbs up.

The World of Sholom Aleichem
(1959)

Three sweet adaptations from Classic Yiddish literature
A sweet collection of three stories adapted from Yiddish literature. A Tale of Chelm deals with a bookseller who is sent by his wife to buy a goat in a town of fools.

Bontshe Shveig is the moving story of a poor, modest man (Jack Gilford) who has led an exemplary life. He dies and goes to heaven and gets to name his reward. This story has stayed with me.

The High School portrays the efforts of a couple to get their son into a secular high school.

Friends
(1994)

Torturous
This is a show for GenX-ers who are still clinging to their fond memories of the white-bread Brady Bunch. I tried, really tried, to like these characters and get past the predictably-timed 'laughs.'

And now, Friends reruns are sandwiched between episodes of the brilliant Seinfeld on TBS, but it's just another show - like Mad About You - to work at avoiding while trying not to miss Seinfeld.

A tenth year. What a waste.

Training Day
(2001)

Keeps you watching, but the last 10 minutes is laughably bad
Denzel Washington was fine playing against type as the corrupt,

streetsmart, brutal cop who's a sort of evil Mr. Myagi (Karate Kid) in

teaching the ways of street power and survival to a flustered Ethan

Hawke. But to paraphrase Denzel, "After all the great films I've

done, they give me a best actor award for this? Whatever,...I'll take

it."

About 10 minutes before the end of the film, nighttime on the tough

ghetto streets filled with felons and hoods becomes someone's

idea of a moralistic joke. All I could do was slap my head. It was

headed for an 8/10, but tanked to a 6.

Booty Call
(1997)

I did not intend to ever see this film
It was on my 'Dude, Where's My Waterboy...' list of contemptable dumb comedies to run away from. But I turned the TV on to watch a DVD and this was just starting.

Watched the funny Chinese restaurant scene and figured that would be it. My hand was poised on the remote, ready to turn it off, but my fingers wouldn't press the button.

Then came the dog. And the Saran Wrap. And the next thing you know, I'm nearly buckled over with laughter. Even though the sex and booty jokes were sometimes embarrassing, the jokes and situations transcended them.

It's definitely a fun film to see by yourself, when you don't have to concern yourself with how someone else is liking it.

Alive from Off Center
(1984)

The best of avant-garde TV
"Alive From Off Center" was produced by KTCA public television in Minneapolis. The show featured independent and cross-cultural works by artists in such media as music, dance, art, film, and comedy. It had a wonderful opening montage, featured people from unknowns to David Byrne, Charles Atlas, and John Sayles, and was scored with music from everyone from Mozart to the Pogues. I truly miss this show (and accidentally wiped out several of the shows I had on tape). It would be great if IFC could get these shows to rerun.

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