Reviews for July 10th, 2009
Directed by Larry Charles.
In this “documentary,” Sacha Baron Cohen plays Brüno, a gay, Austrian fashionista who hosts the TV fashion show “Funkyzeit mit Brüno” or “Funktime with Brüno.” When he gets fired from his job in Austria, he decides to travel to America in hopes of becoming a superstar. Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) joins him as his assistant during his endeavors trying interview celebrities, such as Paula Abdul and a variety of other people for a new show. He even interviews Ron Paul and makes him feel as uncomfortable as possible, i.e. by trying to seduce him in a hotel room. Other pranks include interviewing a gay converter, flirting with redneck hunters from Arkansas, and making out in lust with a guy inside a wrestling ring as the crowd around them yells and throws stuff at them. Basically, co-writers Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer and Jeff Schaffer try to push the envelope as much as possible, such as when Brüno suggests to a mother that, for a photo shoot, her baby will be dressed as a Nazi pushing another baby dressed as a Jew in a wheelbarrow. If that kind of inane, demented, insulting humor appeals to you, you’ll find much of the film to be hysterically funny. Sacha Baron Cohen has a great time with his role and certainly has a lot of guts given a lot of the behavior that he displays onscreen—-he, literally, bares it all, just like he did in Borat. Much of the humor, though, feels repetitive and inane while the supposedly “real” pranks come across as staged, so they lose their comedic spark. It’s refreshingly funny, though, to watch Brüno making a fool out of himself and others, of course, as he alleges that there’s a connection between hummus and Hamas during an interview about peace in the Middle East with an ex-head of Mossad and an ex-Palestinian Prime Minister. However, does the image of Brüno making those two men rub each other’s heads with their hands make you laugh? Or how about when Brüno shows off his adopted African baby named O.J. to an all-African American audience at Richard Bey’s talk show in Dallas while claiming that he traded an Ipod for a baby? Those pranks, among many others, simply fall flat. At a running time of 1 hour and 22 minutes, Brüno manages to be a sporadically funny comedy that often shocks and disgusts, but falls flat with tedious and lazy humor. Number of times I checked my watch: 3Released by Universal Pictures. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Lynn Shelton.
Ben lives in a suburban home with his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). One night, his college friend, Andrew (Joshua Leonard), whom he hasn’t seen for a while, shows up out of the blue up at his doorstep and invites him to a small house party the following night. At the party, Andrew informs him that there’s an amateur porn film festival contest called Humpfest. He would like Ben to participate in the homemade porn film in hopes of turning it into a work of art that will make it a winner. The only catch is that by “participating,” Ben would be having gay sex with Andrew on camera. They both agree that two straight friends having sex with one another would be not only artistic somehow but funny. Just how might Ben be able to explain this to Anna without her freaking out? Or will he even be able to follow through with his commitment to have sex with Andrew once they arrive at the hotel room to start filming? Writer/director Lynn Shelton does a great job of creating awkwardly funny or just plain awkward scenes as Ben and Andrew discuss their special film project with one another. Neither of them goes into great detail about their fundamental motivations, especially because both of them seem rather dim-witted. Anna, though, is the only character who’s relatively intelligent, sane and rational enough to admire. Many of the earlier scenes right after Ben and Andrew agree to make a porno generate some humor and feel refreshing. There’s plenty of organic dialogue and emphasis on character development rather than plot, just like you would expect from a “Mumblecore” film. At times you feel like a voyeur into the lives of these characters. However, Shelton simply doesn’t take the material far enough and stretches it out so thinly that, by the time Ben and Andrew reach the hotel room, you just want them to get their sex act over with while caring less about the final outcome. Humpday manages to be initially refreshing, witty and awkwardly funny, but it morphs into a shallow, tedious, lazy and ultimately forgettable comedy. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
I Love You, Beth Cooper
Directed by Chris Columbus.
Based on the novel by Larry Doyle. Denis (Paul Rust), a high school valedictorian, egged on by his best friend, Rich (Jack T. Carpenter), decides to “carpe diem” by speaking his mind during his graduation speech. He labels one student as a stuck-up diva, another as an insecure bully, another as a bully, Rich as gay, while announcing his love of Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), a beautiful girl who has never paid any attention to him until now. Denis invites them to his graduation party at his home, where there his father (Alan Ruck) left him a stash of condoms just in case they might be needed. Beth arrives with her two friends, Treece (Lauren Storm) and Cammy (Lauren London). Kevin (Shawn Roberts), Beth’s boyfriend, eventually shows up with his two tough-looking buddies, to beat up Denis for trying to steal Beth away from him. Soon enough, Beth runs away from Kevin by driving around with Denis, Rich, Treece and Cammy. Throughout their adventures that wild and crazy night, Rich steps in cow dung in a field, a cow bites him on the neck and Denis’ bully gives Denis an awkwardly long hug at a party. Not surprisingly, in a rather silly scene, Kevin shows to battle it out with Denis again. There are also some corny moments of bonding between Denis and Beth where Denis is supposed to get to Beth Cooper for who she really is. Those moments lack authenticity as do so many other scenes that’ll make you say to yourself, “This can’t happen in real life.” However, just because the screenplay by Larry Doyle veers away from realistic situations, that doesn’t make it less entertaining, as long as you’re able to suspend your disbelief. Sure, the characters seem cartoonish at best and you’ll find yourself rolling your eyes every now and then, but there are some witty bits of dialogue that reference classic 80’s films, such as Risky Business. Most of the film’s success in keeping you engaged is thanks to the terrific casting of each actor and actress who clearly have a lot of fun in their respective roles and bring some well-needed comic energy, especially Paul Rust as Denis. Director Chris Cooper, who’s also known for directing Adventures in Babysitting back in 1987, wisely keeps the pace moving briskly with a well-chosen soundtrack to top it all off. At a running time of 102 minutes, I Love You, Beth Cooper manages to be silly, highly contrived and far from a classic, but it’s ultimately a harmless comedic adventure with a terrific cast and plenty of mindless fun that should please its target audience: teenagers. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by 20th Century Fox. Opens nationwide.
Directed by Fernando Eimbcke.
In Spanish with subtitles. Juan (Diego Catano), a young man, crashes his car into a telegraph pole along a road and survives the crash. The car, though, has stalled, leaving him stranded in a small Mexican town. All he needs to get the engine started is a new distributor harness, but it’s more difficult to find one than he thinks. He meets Don Juan (Hector Herrara), a mechanic who initially believes he’s a burglar and almost calls the police when he trespasses onto his property for help. In gently funny scene, Don Juan sits with Juan at table with two bowls of food in front of him, one for him and one, as it turns out, ends up being for his dog that eats directly from the table. After he learns that Don Juan can’t help him, he goes to an auto parts store where he meets the saleswoman, Lucia (Daniela Valentine), and the mechanic, David (Juan Carlos Lara), a young man obsessed with martial arts. He gives an open invitation to Juan to join him at the movie theater for a special showing of Enter the Dragon. Director/co-writer Fernando Eimbcke, who previously directed and co-wrote Duck Season, fills the film with many slices-of-life within the small Mexican town. Not every scene serves a means of moving the plot along; most of the interactions serve to enhance the realism without the use of twists or distracting subplots. The settings become a character of their own in a way, enhanced by exquisite cinematography and leisurely, relaxed pacing. At times you’ll feel so absorbed into the minimal plot that you can almost feel the heat from the blazing sun outdoors. While there ‘s not much tension or surprises to be found, there does happen to be one mystery that keeps you searching some sort of answer: why is the film called Lake Tahoe if it doesn’t even take place there? That answer becomes cleverly illuminated later on in the film, though. At a brief running time of 81 minutes, Lake Tahoe manages to be a simply complex, intelligent and quietly absorbing drama with just the right blend of humor, tenderness and cinéma vérité realism. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Film Movement. Opens at the Anthology Film Archives.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
Directed by Aviva Kempner.
This lively and fascinating documentary focuses on Gertrude Berg’s rise to fame as a writer, producer and star of The Rise of the Goldbergs, a NBC radio show that debuted back in 1929 during the Depression era. It was eventually re-titled as The Goldbergs when CBS bought it from NBC in the 1930’s. In 1949, the show changed from being played on the radio to being shown on television where it became a huge hit among audiences from a wide variety of age groups, ethnicities and nationalities. Gertrude Berg played the matriarch of the Goldberg family, Molly Goldberg, a sweet, charismatic and very warm-hearted woman who shouted the trademark phrase “Yoo-hoo, is anybody…?” from her apartment window and chit-chatted with her neighbors at adjacent windows during each show. Molly would cook on the show and, every now and then, she went back to the window where she would speak highly about certain household products directly to the audience, who in, turn were persuaded to purchase those products. She and her co-star Philip Loeb, who played her husband, had a unique chemistry together, which couldn’t be replicated when Philip was later replaced by another actor. The reason for the replacement was because he wascharged with being a communist during the Second Red Scare and subsequently fired, which forced CBS to briefly cancel the sitcom in 1951. When it came back on the air, not only was there a new actor instead of Phillip, but the setting from the city to the suburbs, which simply didn’t generate the same sparkling dialogue, chemistry and ambiance that made the sitcom so irresistably entertaining. Director Aviva Kempner, who previously directed the documentary The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, includes candid interviews with Gertrude’s granddaughter, Anne Schwartz, avid fans of the show as well as plenty of archival footage of the show itself. Many of the clips from the show are filled with humor, warmth and wit, so it’s easy to grasp what made it so captivating to watch. It would have been interesting, though, had Kempner dug a little deeper to explore the reasons why Getrude Berg and The Goldbergs have been forgotten and neglected by many people nowadays. Nonetheless, she does a terrific job of including enough information about Gertrude Berg’s life along with the history of the show and insight into its social significance. At a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes, Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg manages to be a captivating and illuminating documentary filled with charm and good-natured humor. It finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually. Number of times I checked my watch: 1Released by International Film Circuit. Opens at the Quad Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinema.