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Be Kind Rewind (2008)
Great concept, disappointing execution
While I'm sure I'll pay a price in the "helpfulness" department for saying it, this is the only film out of the couple dozen that I caught at Sundance this year that I simply could not make it through. (I walked out around the 50-minute mark.) I have nothing against feel-good comedies, and as a film lover, I found the concept hilarious and suspected that this director would do a good job with it. For me at least, it wasn't to be.
I've never been a Jack Black fan, but I was willing to give him a chance, and he was serviceable in a role that didn't ask all that much. What I couldn't get over was the fact that the "sweded" recreations of classic films were not much more imaginative than the stuff that the "Scary Movie" franchise has been cranking out lately. If you want to see classic movies ingeniously remade on a shoestring, might I recommend "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" instead? Those three teenagers had a lot less dough to work with than the the creators of this far-too-predictable exercise, but one could argue that the results were far more entertaining.
End of rant. It could have been worse, but it should have been so much better.
Like Blueghost, I saw it at SF Indiefest and had a great time.
To take stars away from this film based on its technical merits (eighties Betamax, bad sound) would be grinchlike and silly. Sure: when you go into a remake with a $5,000 budget, made by three friends who started in 1982 at age 12 and wrapped the project seven years later, you admire the concept even as you think you just might be in for a couple hours of junk. You would be wrong about the latter. This will stand as one of the most ridiculously awesome successful experiments ever committed to film.
They set one of their parents' basements on fire, and (at least as they tell it) the parents only belatedly caught on and demanded adult supervision, which apparently didn't help much in that the "supervisor" was a total pyro. They did the famous truck chase in all its glory. They obtained snakes. Spider monkeys proved trickier, so Snickers the dog filled in. They scored an honest-to-God submarine. What can I say? Bring on the documentary, and the original on video for all to see.
Burn Notice (2007)
One of your better so-bad-they're-unmissable shows
It's bad in the way that "The A-Team," "The Equalizer," and "MacGyver" were bad. While those obvious predecessors were able to keep their badness under wraps and still make us believe, we were more innocent then. Today, one needs more clever editing and a lot more irony if that throwback is going to get renewed. This may not be entirely fair on the part of We the Audience, but it is what it is.
The good news is that "Burn Notice" mostly delivers in spades. It's a bit ridiculous on the surface, but it's willing also to go the extra mile to compensate with some extremely funny scenes and top-notch production values.
It's not exactly "Moonlighting," which delivered the sexual tension much more convincingly. The romantic chemistry does not work IMHO: Gabrielle Anwar is talented enough but is not the right choice for this role.
Still, good show, and definitely among our better summer light entertainment surprises. I'm looking forward to Season 2.
Away from Her (2006)
It's been said that Alzheimer's is easier on those who suffer from it than from those who are closest to them. While I have no first-hand knowledge of whether this is the case (and pray that I will not, and pray for those who do), I do know that watching Gordon Pinsent's heart break on screen is not a comfortable way to spend 110 minutes. It's merely an important one.
The written words "Go now. I love you. Go now." are going to haunt me for some time, I suspect. If they resonate with you, then trust me, you need to see this film.
It's not perfect. The "did she really just say that?" tactlessness of the nursing-home administrator provides some dark comic relief for a while but becomes grating and redundant by the second hour. As for the almost Hollywood ending, with its moment of reconnection between Grant and Fiona in one of her moments of nearly perfect lucidity: on the one hand it's beautiful, but on the other hand, isn't it a bit too much to ask for? Maybe, maybe not, what do I know. As a character study of people who are trapped in one of nature's cruelest mazes, this is an astonishing piece of work. I've enjoyed Sarah Polley as an actor; clearly it's time to recognize her terrific skills as a director.
Shut Up & Sing (2006)
I guess I'm the Dixie Chicks' new audience, their having been deserted by a certain breed of fan who interprets seventeen words as a good reason to renounce his or her loyalty and stomp a few CDs into oblivion. Why would any artist want such a fan in the first place? Where are the country-music fans who will stand up for them? Are we really this easily distracted, so many years after Lennon's infamous "more popular than Jesus" stompfest? Yeah, I suppose we are.
This is a truly heartbreaking film. It's also really funny, and ultimately joyous. These three simply do not give in, and while there's a certain "Spinal Tap" quality about their efforts to redefine their careers in light of their abandonment by extremely fair-weather friends, the fact is that it worked. They're still the world's best-selling all-female band, and until we can round up three or more seriously fascist chicks who can work together long enough to deliver a significant challenge, I suspect that they'll remain that way.
A joyous legacy
Hard to review this film under the circumstances. Adrienne Shelly's death was a body blow to me. I didn't know her apart from her work over the past 18 years, but that was enough to know that we lost someone truly important on November 1, 2006.
It's the movie that matters, and this one shows Shelly coming into her own as a director, the third time out of the gate. It's smart and funny and life-affirming, and when stacked up against "Fay Grim," the latest effort from writer-director Hal Hartley (who gave Shelly her start), there's really no contest: it's the pupil over the mentor all the way.
(Sorry, Hal, if I've offended, though I doubt that you'd mind.)
Small film, huge heart.
For the record, the Adrienne Shelly Foundation is a very good cause.
Broadcast News (1987)
Before there was "Sports Night"...
...there was "Broadcast News," and what a good thing it was. This one just plain stands up and sounds its barbaric yawp in a manner that resonates two decades later.
There are moments -- especially with respect to the cutesy score -- when this film becomes a bit too eighties, or a bit too "Sleepless in Seattle." Fortunately, they're few and far between.
One-third social satire, one-third romantic comedy, one-third drama, with three flawed but endearing people at its core, it's smart and moving and almost impossibly funny. Holly Hunter in particular may never have been more fun to watch in a comedic role. (And yes, I'm including "Raising Arizona," her other star turn from that era, in this assessment.)
A legitimate classic.
Year of the Dog (2007)
Mike White: how dare you?
Depth is not something that we want. We want to laugh. We love our dogs so much that we want to see what happens when they lick our faces, not what happens when they die and when that loss makes us (temporarily) a little bit nuts.
There's a rumor going around that this is not a comedy. I suppose that's true, if all you want from your comedy is "School of Rock: Rock Harder." If you're looking for escapism, you may want to avoid this movie as if it were made by Menu Foods.
Then again...there's some extremely funny stuff here. Soapbox off. Decide for yourself.
Smiley Face (2007)
Gregg Araki clearly knows his drugs. We've known that at least since he inflicted the utterly graceless "The Doom Generation" upon us twelve years ago. His virtues as a filmmaker have taken a bit longer to shine through. With "Smiley Face," a loving and often hilarious light comedy about a day in the life of a young woman who is confused, sweet, beautiful, and very, very stoned: shine they do.
Araki's previous film, "Mysterious Skin," was a brutally dark psychological drama based around homosexual incest. "Smiley Face" is, um, not. It explores the much lighter taboo of recreational cannabis use by making us laugh our darn fool heads off. Let's face it: after the last few years, some of us have needed to do so more than ever, and Araki and writer Dylan Haggerty have delivered a playful, ironic comedy that honors yet transcends the traditional "stoner flick." I'm fairly certain that this indie gem will become a cult classic even if doesn't achieve mainstream success. Anna Faris's presence may help, and her face does things in this movie that are terrific things for faces to be able to do.
Terror in Beverly Hills (1989)
John Myhers: hackiest hack that ever hacked, or evil genius?
I might just have to opt for the latter. As we all know, there have been many terrible action movies over the years, but this one takes the awfulness to an extreme that I simply can't believe is unintentional. It's one of those flicks that would have been completely pointless for the cast of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" to parody, because it parodies itself far more deliciously than they ever could.
If I were to pinpoint the exact moment I realized this, it must have been when, after product-placing cans of Pepsi and Diet Pepsi in pretty much every shot where they would make any sense (and a few where they wouldn't), the director chose to begin a scene by literally panning out from the Pepsi can. In retrospect, it really shouldn't have taken me that long.
"Terror in Beverly Hills" is a revelation of glorious badness. At its best/worst, it's at least as funny as anything Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker have done except for "Airplane!" and "Top Secret," and I've got to hand it to Myhers for his resourcefulness: he took an, erm, modest budget and the full knowledge that some people might take this thing seriously and judge him harshly, and he said "okay, fine" and just went with it.
At the same time, the initial kidnapping scene contains many dead bystanders, and the last half-hour rather abruptly jettisons the humor value in favor of the usual sexual violence against women and machine-gun violence against men. The early-nineties score, by turns "Beverly Hills Cop light" and apparently geared toward a genuine suggestion of menace, further complicates things.
An enigma wrapped in a mystery? Nah, I'm almost certainly overthinking it. Maybe the jarring tone shifts are simply due to the fact that the guy knew he was making a bad movie and woke up every day with a different attitude toward that fact.