Based on the award-winning book by Bernhard Schlink The Reader is an extraordinary provocative and controversial story set in post-World War II Germany. It starts when 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) becomes ill with scarlet fever and is helped home by sympathetic woman named Hanna (Kate Winslet). After his recovery he returns to thank her and is drawn into a clandestine affair with this intriguing woman more than twice his age. Their relationship grows stronger especially when he starts reading to her. But then she suddenly disappears leaving a devastated Michael who now must move on with his life. Little does he know that eight years later while he is in law school he would see Hanna again -- as one of the defendants in a court case against Nazi war criminals. Shocked at revelations about her secret past he also discovers something that will change both their lives forever. Granted Kate Winslet is one of the finest young screen actresses but her range in The Reader will astonish you. It’s an extremely tricky part that could easily lose the audience’s sympathy if done incorrectly but Winslet handles it with aplomb. She runs through the whole gamut of emotions -- aging from her 30s to 60s -- all at once sexy mysterious conflicted contrite as well as many other colors. As Michael newcomer Kross is devastatingly good the most impressive acting discovery in a long time. Although he plays 15 he was 17 at the start of filming and production had to shut down until he turned 18 for the graphic sex scenes. As the story flashes forward Ralph Fiennes takes over the role as the older Michael and does so with a touching sincerity. Lena Olin also has a strong cameo as a Holocaust survivor with definite opinions of Hanna. Although this is only acclaimed stage director Stephen Daldry’s third film he once again shows a mastery of the medium far beyond his limited cinematic resume. Like The Hours and his debut film Billy Elliot he has crafted another film to savor. The Reader isn’t necessarily the most comfortable film to watch but Daldry guides the subject matter with a delicate and steady hand giving us a complex and touching love story between the most unlikely couple. It also delves into how one generation of Germans can come to terms with the horrors of another. Daldry’s directorial restraint and power perfectly serves David Hare’s impressive screenplay and delivers a memorable movie-going experience.
Vince Vaughn never worked as a stand-up comedian but as an actor who struck gold making people laugh he clearly has an affinity for those who tell jokes and shout down hecklers for a living. This side-splitting travelogue documents what happens when Vaughn puts together a comedy version of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Instead of Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull proudly showing off their feats of skill you have Vaughn goofing around onstage with his buddies and four funnymen busting their butts to win over (occasionally hostile) audiences. And when they’re not trying to generate chuckles with bits about sex shopping and showers the comics must contend with life on the road—driving from city to city with Vaughn in a tour bus that doubles as a frat house on wheels and sharing hotel rooms too small for their fragile egos. At first though you wonder whether the film--and the tour for that matter--is just an excuse for Vaughn to get paid to have fun with Jon Favreau Justin Long Peter Billingsley and Keir O'Donnell in Saturday Night Live-ish skits (a spoof on Favreau’s roundtable gabfest Dinner for Five is money). Or visit places pivotal to his life and career such as the University of Notre Dame where he and Favreau became good pals while filming Rudy. But as the tour progresses Vaughn slowly but surely takes a backseat to the comedians who are trying desperately to make the most of the big break afforded them by their big-name benefactor. There’s no denying that Vaughn’s just as much a larger-than-life presence onstage as he is onscreen. Whether he’s getting his balls busted by Favreau or singing a duet with Dwight Yoakam Vaughn’s certainly comfortable working in front of a live audience. That said he knows his limitations. He wisely sticks to serving as the show’s emcee rather than pretending he’s the second coming of Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld. He’s also the face of the tour which means we get to see him in salesman mode trying to part the public from their entertainment dollars. You’re left with no doubt that Vaughn and the occasionally cranky fast-talking alpha males he plays are one and the same. As for the comics John Caparulo and Bret Ernst waste little time grabbing the spotlight. Fueled by nervous energy the foulmouthed Caparulo scores big laughs by machine-gun riffing on his very many shortcomings. Ernst’s “Guido jokes” are also made at his own expense and his hilarious recollection of roller staking as a kid ranks among the film’s most hilarious moments. It’s a tossup as to whether Caparulo and Ernst have the best rapport with audiences but both have bright futures ahead of them. Unfortunately Sebastian Maniscalco doesn’t project much in the way of personality and his neat-freak act just isn’t amusing. Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed is a one-trick pony. Yes there’s much humor to be found in his unsettling experiences as an Arab American—especially when he recalls being arrested—but he exhausts the topic so much that he really needs to find something else to take aim at. Anyone owning a YouTube digital camera could probably do just as good a job directing this documentary as Ari Sandel does. He takes a point-and-shoot approach to his subject--which is in contrast to Dane Cook’s stunt-filled series Tourgasm--but that doesn’t matter. This is a film that lives or dies in the editing room not on the road. As the film opens Vaughn naturally dominates the proceedings. And his skits with Favreau et al. are admittedly hysterical. He does quietly but noticeably fade into the background allowing the comics he hand-picked from L.A.’s Comedy Store their shot at glory. Sandel’s priority is to capture them in performance at their best and worst while revealing--through interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage--the trials and tribulations they face as unknowns who have yet out to set the comedy world on fire. To this end Sandel assembles a fun and intimate portrait of four men who during the course of one month bond over their desire to make people bust a gut laughing. And that’s never more evident when they hand out tickets to a show to Hurricane Katrina refugees who have set up camp in a park near Birmingham Ala. By the time the Wild West Comedy Show reaches its final destination of Chicago Vaughn seems exhausted but his compatriots have hit their stride. “We played 30 cities and we rocked all them ” Vaughn giddily declares. If Vaughn didn’t rock your city then the Wild West Comedy Show is definitely the next best thing to being there. Even better there’s no two-drink minimum.