In the teensy-weensy town of Passaic New Jersey there exists a dying breed: a video-rental store--as in VHS not DVD. Just across the street from said store exists a power plant. And in between the store and power plant exists a doofus named Jerry (Jack Black). Yeah it’s a disaster waiting to happen (at least in writer-director Michel Gondry’s kooky mind). One night when Jerry sets out to sabotage the power plant whose microwaves he swears are killing him that disaster happens. He winds up getting zapped and even worse erasing the contents of every single tape at the nearby rental store Be Kind Rewind. It was already at risk of being demolished in favor of an aesthetic upgrade to the building but this turn of events would seem to be the nail in its coffin. And when a faithful customer (Mia Farrow) threatens to tell Be Kind Rewind’s owner (Danny Glover) unless Ghostbusters is in stock by the end of the day Jerry and his friend Mike (Mos Def) the store’s loyal employee must think and act quickly. And so they do recreating Ghostbusters and every other movie that is requested for rental. Unwitting customers are none the wiser and before long their store-made movies become a hit in the neighborhood and possibly a source of sufficient enough funds to save Be Kind Rewind from demolition. That is until Hollywood comes knockin’. Jack Black continues to expand his comedic horizons with Be Kind proving that virtually any role calling for funny has his name written on it. This isn’t his prototypical flaunt-your-paunch scream-like-a-maniac role and as a result Black’s versatility within the realm has never been so apparent. He gives the well-meaning dimwit several layers--vulnerability imagination pitifulness ambition--but maintains the recognizable energy for which we all know and love him for. Rapper-turned-actor Mos Def however is rather bland in playing straight-man to Black’s klutz. It’s occasionally a nice disparate dynamic between the two actors but Mos much like some of his past movies (16 Blocks The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) just doesn’t seem suited for the style at play. Glover meanwhile is suited for Be Kind lending stability to the quasi-fairytale as an old-school sage. Then there’s Farrow who only further tarnishes her once legendary status with another laughable role choice and performance. Of course it’s hard to ever look at Farrow the same way following her role in last year’s worst movie The Ex. In a somewhat disappointing turn of events Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind The Science of Sleep) screenplay for Be Kind Rewind just doesn’t make the grade. It goes from a silly conceit in the beginning to a way-too-feel-good ending using filmmaking as a sappy uniting-the-people cure-all to get from point A to B. And oddly enough the movie often resembles a traditional slapstick-y comedy. Luckily Gondry the director comes to the rescue. Chief among his accomplishments here are the meta moments the film-within-a-film sequences. The scenes are truly enlightening and elevate Be Kind a great deal. In fact a movie full of such scenes would make a great next project for Gondry--and maybe would’ve made a better project out of Be Kind. The sequences which thriftily remake mainstream classics like Ghostbusters Driving Miss Daisy and Robocop--the only kind of movies that would exist in a VHS-rental store--offer a glimpse into Gondry’s fantasy mind where the creativity wheels are always spinning and the camera is always rolling. Some of the remakes are featured in Be Kind’s trailer and it’s unfortunately one of those cases where the trailer shows the movie’s best parts. But it’s still worth seeing and his fans will likely not suffer such a letdown.
The time is 1950. Tyrone Purvis (Danny Glover) lives in a small Alabama town with his wife Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and teenage stepdaughter China Doll (Yaya DaCosta) running his own small bar called the Honeydripper. Despite his piano playing and the presence of a fabulous blues singer (Mable John who sang with Ray Charles as one of the Raelettes) the place is empty losing business to the livelier joint down the road. As the plodding and predictable story unfolds the stereotypes of the era emerge including the prejudiced and self-aggrandizing white sheriff (Stacy Keach) a group of disgruntled black farm workers and even a hellfire-and-brimstone traveling preacher who sets up shop in a revival tent. In his attempt to save his bar from going under Purvis resorts to a series of less-than-legal moves aided by his trusty right-hand man (Charles S. Dutton) and a mysterious young man (Gary Clark Jr.) who arrives in town toting a newfangled guitar--and who eventually plays a whole new kind of music: rock and roll. The assembled cast of Honeydripper is normally a talented group of actors but in this film they mostly seem to be going through the motions. Danny Glover looks like he is sleepwalking through his role as the bar owner who can’t make ends meet. As his wife Lisa Gay Hamilton does a familiar slightly histrionic variation on the put-upon spouse who retreats into religion as an escape from her family problems. And Stacy Keach is a total caricature of the bad southern sheriff. The brightest lights in this mostly dismal film are the two younger actors Gary Clark Jr. and Yaya DaCosta whose romance is a subplot of the central story. And the hands-down best performance is given by blues guitar great Keb’ Mo’ as a blind musician who offers up much-needed musical interludes throughout the film. At least he seems to be enjoying himself while most of the others onscreen struggle to deliver the hackneyed dialogue that riddles Sayles’ yawn-inducing script. It is hard to believe that John Sayles--the same man who wrote directed and edited wonderful movies like Lone Star Passion Fish and City of Hope--is the person behind Honeydripper. Sayles one of the cinema’s truly independent filmmakers has always had a very specific vision and voice a point of view that has garnered him two Academy Award nominations for screenwriting. But Honeydripper is just a disappointment with its completely predictable plotline and deathly slow pace. The one bright light in this plodding tale is the music. Early on Mable John lights things up with a couple of great old blues tunes then Keb’ Mo’ throws in some terrific riffs midway followed (finally!) by Gary Clark Jr.’s rousing rock and roll set that closes out the picture. If only the whole film was as interesting and fun to watch as the last 10 minutes when the music really ramps up. Sadly as it is by the time those final moments arrive the viewer is barely awake.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all...hell is about to break loose! It starts when a snowstorm grounds all planes at Chicago’s fictional Hoover International Airport. Nobody’s happy to be potentially spending Xmas at an airport but least of all are the Davenport siblings Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) and his little sis Katherine (Dominique Saldana) as well as airport security boss Oliver (Lewis Black). The two kids are escorted to the airport’s “Unaccompanied Minors Lounge ” where kids run wild and terrorize pushover Zach Van Bourke (Wilmer Valderrama) who acts as chief airport babysitter. One look at the madness is all it takes for Spencer and Katherine to bust out along with fellow kiddie anarchists Charlie (Tyler James Williams) Timothy (Brett Kelly) Donna (Quinn Shephard) and Grace (Gina Mantegna). They embark on a pratfall-heavy game of cat and mouse with Oliver who is the Grinch to their collective Santa Clause as they try and salvage Christmas--and their families. Unaccompanied Minors makes some odd but admirable choices when it comes to the cast with virtually every single actor attempting a “Frat Pack” mutiny--Daily Show mainstay Black is joined by “correspondent” Rob Corddry as the Davenports’ Hummer-hating dad not to mention parts from The Office’s B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling Arrested Development’s Tony Hale and Jessica Walter SNL’s Rob Riggle and Kristen Wiig Paget Brewster David Koechner and a rare Kids in the friggin’ Hall (Kevin McDonald Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney) sighting. But the “Who’s that?” cameos aside the screen time is hogged by Black Valderrama and the children. Black the notoriously vulgar curmudgeon of a comedian shows great range and skill by dulling his shtick down but not so much that the kids watching won’t crack up while Valderrama’s performance is the same as his role--that of a bumbling easily overmatched lackey. With all the proverbial child actors in the mix it can seem a little Star Search-y but Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) steals most scenes with his amazing overall talent while Mantegna (Joe’s daughter) fares well too. Kelly (the bullied kid in Bad Santa) is exploited for his physicality and Christopher will likely go on to be a great actor even if he seems too seasoned at such a young age. The reason for the off-the-beaten-path cast is simple: director Paul Feig. The occasional actor has in the past directed episodes of The Office and the late Arrested Development Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks. It also might explain why he fell for a script--by Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark--that takes a few stabs at grown-up comedy (i.e. Corddry’s character has a car that runs on vegetable oil). Such jokes will be lost on the exclusively preadolescent audience but almost all else will reel them in. Feig also seems adept at making the oft-unfunny (physical pratfalls) somewhat funny and he does so with little mention of bodily functions. Of course he stays true to the formula but all kid flicks are the ultimate exercises in contrivance--Feig just chooses to treat the viewers like kids instead of idiots.
Yes it’s true. Although it reaped deserved accolades and an Oscar win for its star Philip Seymour Hoffman Capote keeps you somewhat at arm’s length as you watch Truman Capote go through his agonizing journey to writing his one and only masterpiece In Cold Blood. Infamous however wears its heart on its sleeve drawing you in immediately. When we first meet Capote (Toby Jones) it’s in New York. As the toast of the town and confidante to some of Manhattan’s elite grand dames including Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver) and Slim Keith (Hope Davis) Capote’s mood is light and airy his antics hilarious. Then once Capote travels to Kansas to cover the grisly Cutter murders with his dear friend Nell Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) the frivolity is peeled away layer by layer. When he finally becomes so tortuously—and yes even romantically (it goes there)—entangled with killer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and the writing of his book hits its crescendo Capote emerges as a beaten-down and bitter man who ultimately can’t even be lifted by his high society friends. Infamous is infinitely more heartbreaking. It’s really hard to top Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote. He embodies the character with such exquisite and subtle suffering you don’t mind the fact he doesn’t look anything like the diminutive author. Toby Jones (Finding Neverland) however does look like Capote. A LOT like him and is just as capable at wringing out all of Capote’s brilliance and faults. But rather than dominate Jones’ eerie look-a-like characterization blends in more with Infamous’ scenery allowing some of the other colorful characters to step up to the plate. Weaver and Davis are effusive and catty as Capote’s Manhattan buddies who give hints on what’s to become of Capote later in his life when he finally goes too far and crosses these fine society ladies. Craig is also particularly effecting as Smith full of pathos and rage. But the real stand out is Bullock as Harper Lee. Her unassuming but quietly fierce take on the To Kill a Mockingbird author far outshines Catherine Keener’s Oscar-nominated performance in Capote. Bullock brings such an essence to the role that when watching Lee tell stories of when she and Truman were children you see the little girl Scout from Mockingbird so very clearly. Kudos all around. Director/writer Douglas McGrath has to got to be kicking himself. Seriously. Of course he’s going to say “Given the riveting contradictions in Capote’s character the rich range of people who made up his circle and the comic and dramatic turns that marked the period the real wonder is that there were only two scripts.” But the fact of the matter is Capote came first and furious getting all kinds of good strokes. Releasing another movie about the very same subject on its heels...well that movie is going to have a harder time. Period. And that’s a real shame. McGrath does some truly marvelous things with Infamous. He shows how a flamboyant gay writer spoiled chic who plays court jester to the very cream of New York society is set down in the wastelands of Kansas to write about a horrible crime. Capote’s antics at first are hilarious such as trying to wear cowboy boots and a cowboy hat just to fit in. But then the shift into the dark side as Capote delves deeper and deeper into the psyche of the killers keeps you riveted. It might be the same but Infamous is just as worthy.
A pathetic shell of a man shy milquetoast Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) leads a lonely life caring for his dying mother in their dirty and decrepit old mansion where his late father's portrait (of Bruce Davison Willard in the 1971 original) hangs in gloomy watch over his urn of ashes no lights are ever on and rats are overrunning the basement. He's got a miserable desk job working for the cruel man who took over Willard's family business and who gives him nothing but grief day in and day out. When his mother orders Willard (whom she calls "Clark" as she hates his given name) to kill the rats breeding downstairs he not only can't bring himself to do it he goes so far as to make pets of them. Socrates gets favored-rat status inspiring resentment in Ben a huge black rat that Willard requently and unceremoniously throws into the basement by its thick tail. But befriending them doesn't end there; when Willard discovers that he can psychically command his new--and quickly multiplying--friends to do things like "tear it up " he employs this four-legged army to exact revenge upon his enemies. Willard's control is short-lived however and when jealous Ben takes charge of the rat pack nothing can stop the roiling hordes from "tearing up" whatever--and whoever--they want.
Crispin Glover (The River's Edge Back to the Future) was born to play seething manic Willard. Sadly Glover is one of Hollywood's most underrated actors no doubt because he chooses off-putting movies and characters like these that are devastatingly funny pitiable and abhorrent all at once. Here he delivers an ace performance as a troubled young man who gradually slips down the slope of madness into utter dementia. Ultimately Willard is as awful as anyone else yet the gut-wrenching emotional roller-coaster ride Glover takes us on creates a weird empathy for this antihero as his snarling features twist from doubt to anger to fear to sadness in the blink of an eye. R. Lee Ermey is a monster as Willard's boss Frank Martin; Jackie Burroughs as Willard's ghastly revolting mother is given some of the movie's funniest lines; and Socrates and Ben (rat? CGI? Chinchilla?) bring it home.
Written and directed by Glen Morgan (screenwriter Final Destination X-Files) Willard is a fascinating character study made even more so by its subtext of betrayal. The term "rat" can be used to describe one who betrays and everyone in this movie is a "rat " so to speak: Willard's family is betrayed; Willard's parents betray him; Willard betrays his animal friends; Willard is betrayed. The only non-"rats" are in fact the furred-and-whiskered ones who repulsive as they may be are loyal until given reason not to be. The production values and editing are outstanding the script is tight some of the lines are laugh-out-loud funny and the blacker-than-black humor will appeal to the sort of people who won't mind watching a kitty cat meet its demise to Michael Jackson's schmaltzy "Ben." That said animal lovers beware: Even though you know it's not real Willard contains some horrifying scenes. Still despite the vile turns the movie takes you have to hand it to Morgan who is unafraid nay eager to go there. You on the other hand may not be so willing.