Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Young Adult Review: Growing Up Is Hard To Do

Back in high school, I wanted out of it because I was sick of being treated like I was mentally retarded (I was quiet and smart, really) by people who thought high school was a blast, but if you peak in high school, you're done. Life goes south (kids, mortgage, car payments, etc.) and the only relief is going to your high school reunion to relive your glory days. For Mavis Gary, the protagonist of the gallows funny, "Young Adult", the third cine-partnership between Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman ("Juno", "Jennifer's Body, which Mr. Reitman only served as a producer), her relief is going to her hometown, but it's far from perfect.

Played brilliantly straightforward by Oscar holder Charlize Theron ("Monster", "North Country"), Mavis lives the lonely life of a young adult fiction writer, working on a "Sweet Valley High"-like series (Ms. Cody's currently working on a film adaptation). If she's not getting inspiration for dialogue by hanging near teenagers, she's guzzling Diet Coke and booze or having pathetic one-night stands.

When she learns that her old high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (good natured Patrick Wilson of "Watchmen", "A Gifted Man" and Ms. Theron's co-star in "Prometheus") is a proud father of a newborn baby girl, Mavis, recently divorced and unaware her series is about to be sacked, heads from Minneapolis ("The Mini-Apple") to Mercury to "rescue" Buddy from "domestic hell". Reality knocks in the form of Matt Freehauf (the smart, underdoggish Patton Oswalt of "Big Fan" and "The King Of Queens"), an old classmate who was crippled by bullies who mistaken him as a homosexual. Though Mavis thinks her goal's pure, Matt notes that high school wasn't a blast for everyone, particularly himself.

If you expect the same heart-warmness that was in "Juno", you should go elsewhere, but don't dismiss "Young Adult" as a bad film. It has dark quirkiness while saying arrested development isn't always a good thing. Cody and Reitman nicely note that with smart, dry, deadpan humor that echoes the work of Reitman's father, Ivan ("Meatballs", Stripes", the "Ghostbusters" films). Unlike the criminally-overrated "Bridesmaids", "Young Adult" doesn't sugar-coat a woman's "losing it".

Over-looked for an Oscar nominated here, Ms. Theron is kind of like a combo of Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, the lead players of the "Clerks" films; lethargy and cynicism are combined in a perfect ten woman who desperately wants to be an eleven again, but her hair pulling gets in the way. Hating her for being a home wrecker is understandable, but, around the climax, don't be shocked if you have pity for her. Mr. Wilson's the polar opposite in his role, settled in his paternal and spousal roles and slightly hesitant to look back at his "wild, glory days".

The "bad days" are still around for Mr. Oswalt's Matt, having a shattered leg, deformed genitalia and a cane. Owning a sports bar, having a makeshift distillery in his garage and making patchwork action figures keep him happy and sane. It's funny wish-fulfillment (for anyone who can relate) when he sexually comforts a post-meltdown Theron.

Nice turns are given by Elizabeth Reaser (almost Ellen Page-like!) as Wilson's wife, a special need teacher/part-time drummer in a rock band whose members are moms, and Jill Eikenberry ("L.A. Law") as Theron's concerned mom. D.P. Eric Steelberg has a good eye for reflecting Mavis's moods when she's somewhere; Minneapolis's dreary, Mercury's sunny but has a hint of dark.

"Young Adult" isn't for anyone who liked high school and moved on. It's for the haters and those who don't want to let go.

Forbidden Planet's New Location

Same block (East 13th St and Broadway in New York City), but they moved some stores down.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Women In Trouble: A Skinamax film meets a Lifetime film meets a Kevin Smith film

On the surface, "Women In Trouble", the fifth film from Sebastian Guitterez ("Rise"; co-wrote "Snakes On A Plane") looks like your typical sex comedy, packed with attractive, well-endowed dames. It does have the dames, but they-and the film-are surprisingly three-dimensional and quaint, making the film a must-see.

Circumstances, wacky and serious, locks the film's vignettes, featuring different women, all Los Angeles residents: infamous porn actress Electra Luxx (the impressive Carla Gugino of "Watchmen", "Faster", Sin City", "Sucker Punch" and other films directed by Mr. Guitterez, her longtime boyfriend) learns she's pregnant; her ditzy co-worker Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki of "Friday Night Lights: The Series") gets in trouble with gangsters during a "pro gig" with pal Bambi (Emmauelle Chirqui of "You Don't Mess With The Zohan").

Meanwhile, therapist Maxine (Sarah Clarke of "24") gets drunk when she learns her husband (Emmy nominee Simon Baker of "The Mentalist") is having an affair with a patient's mother (Caitlin Keats) from the patient herself, old soul goth gal Charlotte (Mr. Guitterez's niece, Isabella) and flight stewardess Cora (Marley Shelton of "Grindhouse" and "Scream 4") has a Mile High Club fling with rocker Nick Chapel (Oscar nominee Josh Brolin of "Milk") ends gallows funny.

If you're expecting full frontal nudity, forget it, but that doesn't mean "Women In Trouble" is a waste of time. Imagine the sexiness of a soft-core porn film on Cinemax, the female angst from a Lifetime movie and the profane/profound humor of a Kevin Smith film and you have this underdog gem.

With a fun script and tight direction, Guitterez treats his cast pretty well and, while in their roles, they shine in their ups and downs. Also included in the mix are Connie Britton (also of "FNL" and the TV series "Nashville") as Charlotte's "aunt" who has a dark secret; Rya Kihlstedt as a shotgun-totting, lesbian barkeep; Cameron Richardson as the barkeep's masseuse roommate from Canada and Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon ("The Jamie Foxx Show") as Cora's pal. There's also a Q&A session, post-end credits scroll, involving Electra and Holly with an over-eager Internet reporter (Joseph Gordon-Levitt of "Brick" and "Inception") that starts out a bit weak but ends funny. Ms. Shelton's sister, Samantha, belts out a sweet tune in a bar.

Pretty girls have problems too, and "Women In Trouble" proves that with a thoughtful chuckle.

(To read my review of the sequel: Electra Luxx, click on

A Face In The Crowd Review: From Country Boy to Corrupt Bastard: The Life of Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes

Nowadays, fame is quick and lazy, courtesy of YouTube videos and (ugh) reality television. Any Joe and Jane Average can get in front of a microphone and camera and entertain the masses. However, what if that lucky person gets drunk with the spotlight over their head and abuses it to become a political force. It's been done before, but not as masterfully as in "A Face in the Crowd".

Before his immortal TV sitcom role, Andy Griffith gives a volatile performance as Larry Rhodes, a guitar-playing hobo who has an undefeatable taste for women and booze. He gets jailed after a bender, but gets plucked by Marcia Jefferies (a passionate Patricia Neal of the original "The Day The Earth Stood Still"), a local radio station reporter and host of a show that focuses on average folk and shares its title with the film's. Before you know it, "Lonesome" (dubbed by Jefferies) is a radio star in Arkansas, a new Will Rogers (or a pre-Howard Stern, if you're not that old) for the "plain folks".

Offers from television and ad sponsors come pouring in. So do high ratings and screaming fans. So does a politician with presidential aspirations. Rhodes loves it, including the influence, wealth and women. He can't say no to the good life, while poor Jefferies, who takes a more than professional interest in him, is treated by him either as convenient comfort or yesterday's news. How can a man of the people be such a bastard?

Though despised (rightfully) by his fellow filmsmiths for naming names during the McCarthy era, director Elia Kazan takes the literate script by his "On The Waterfront" compeer, Budd Schulberg (co-wrote Rhodes's songs), and knits a stark examination of how fame can be a narcotic; television can reduce politics into sound bites and human decency and dignity can be forgotten in the hunt for money, power and sex. I wonder, in lieu of the last part, if the members of the Production Code, the decency enforcers of cinema (before the MPAA's rating system), were asleep during the screening of this film, whose sexual anecdotes are rising at the surface.

Commendable are the two main players. Griffith (should have been an Oscar contender) is a volcano with two feet, bursting with pride and, sometimes, fear while Neal's smart and sexy in her fragility, echoing Eva Marie Saint's role in "Waterfront". The others are impressive: Anthony Franciosa ("Fathom", "Across 110th St.) as a slimy junior exec at a mattress company who worms his way into Rhodes's camp; Walt Matthau ("Grumpy Old Men") as a copy scribe who knows Rhodes better than the man himself and Lee Remick (the original "Omen") as a corn-fed tart, who catches Rhodes's lecherous eyes during a sexually suggestive (!) baton-twirling contest, which she participates and wins. Guess who's the judge? Legendary newsmen Walter Winchell and Mike Wallace make cameos.

Like "Network", "A Face in The Crowd" is an unintentional prophecy of the evils of mass media. It flopped at the box office, when it first premiered, but it's now a classic lesson of how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thursday, February 7, 2013