Archive | July, 2010

Eternal Optometrist

29 Jul

The good news is that the titular gathering in Dinner for Schmucks lives up to its billing and is a very funny scene — perhaps the best in the entire movie.

The bad news, however, is that the scene is not longer, and it takes almost an hour and a half to get to it.

Until then, this film — about a guy (Paul Rudd) who must bring a loser (Steve Carell) to a dinner party in order to win a promotion — is only mildly amusing.

Carell’s character is weird, but I didn’t find him to be the absurdly over-the-top weird, awkward loser that he’s supposed to be. Continue reading

It Really Is a Small, Small World

28 Jul

Anyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for nostalgia.

Reconnecting with old friends is, for me, one of the most fun aspects of Facebook, for example. And I’ve already told you about how I’m reliving my high school days by re-reading the journals I kept during those four years.

So you can only imagine how much I enjoy reconnecting with people in the most random of places, far from the computer. Continue reading

Jack Rebney Still Has a Lot to Say

27 Jul

In 1989, a man named Jack Rebney shot an industrial film meant to promote Winnebago motor homes. Shooting in intense heat and being pestered by flies caused Rebney to lose his cool many times, and all his expletive-laden outbursts were captured on film … and then edited together into a legendary outtakes reel that eventually made its way onto YouTube, where it has achieved cult status. But whatever happened to Rebney? We know he was fired from his job a month after shooting, but that’s the last anyone had heard from him. And thus we have the inspiration for the new documentary Winnebago Man, in which filmmaker Ben Steinbauer goes in search of a man once dubbed the angriest in the world.

If the initial search for Rebney was all the film was about, that’d be an awfully short documentary — especially because when Steinbauer does find him, he’s just a nice older gent who is bewildered by the attention. Thankfully, there’s more to the story than that, and more to the film too. Steinbauer fleshes out Winnebago Man by interviewing and soliciting brief commentary from some viral video “experts,” including Douglas Rushkoff (who coined the term viral video). At least one interviewee is confused by the inquiry and the search. After all, if we get to know the people behind some of these videos (like the Star Wars kid or Alexsey Vayner, whose leaked resume video made him the laughing stock of the Internet), then they lose their charm and entertainment value, right?

Not so with Rebney. Thankfully, after his initial “dog and pony show,” the old man turns out to be the cantankerous-grandfather-like figure Steinbauer (and fans like me) expect and hope he’ll be. (One can’t help but think he’s the brother of Justin Halpern’s dad.) It’s fascinating to watch as this man, who has chosen a hermit-like life for himself on a mountain in northern California, comes to terms with his notoriety and the people who think of him in such an affectionate way.

Could Winnebago Man have been about more just than a search for one man, and instead been an examination of multiple people who gained, if not fame then infamy through YouTube, and a greater study about why we’re so fascinated by them? Yes. That might have made it a more interesting film, with more of an insightful takeaway. But as a portrait of this one man, and why people are so fascinated by him, it’s engaging and entertaining.

YouTube is, as one person describes it, a “modern-day freak show,” and films like Winnebago Man might just go some distance toward reminding viewers that there are some real-life people behind the videos that make us laugh so hard. Hopefully those people are all as compelling as Jack Rebney. I’m giving Winnebago Man a B+. Do yourself a kindness and go see it.

Family Matters

26 Jul

In the film The Kids Are All Right, a married couple is shaken up when their teenage children decide to seek out the sperm donor who fathered them. That the married couple is a lesbian couple adds another layer to the plot, but one of the standout features of this film is how matter-of-factly this is treated. And as played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, gracefully and naturally, this couple is one of the most normal, down-to-earth, relatable couples on screen in a long time — flaws and all.

The Kids Are All Right is that kind of movie; what might seem on its surface to be a “message movie” about how even lesbians can successfully raise children is just at its heart a movie about a family — any family — dealing with an unexpected circumstance. And heart is the key word here, since writer/director Lisa Cholodenko has imbued the film with plenty of it (Stuart Blumberg co-wrote the screenplay). Rounding out the cast are Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska (much better here than in Alice in Wonderland), and Josh Hutcherson, all of whom are wonderful.

In a summer full of bombast, The Kids Are All Right is notable not just because it’s a well-made movie, but because it’s the rare film that without gimmick, mockery, or heavy-handedness shows how important family is, and trusts that audiences will get that message no matter what type of family it is. I’m giving The Kids Are All Right an A–.

Not So Flavorful

22 Jul

I have to be honest: I’m not the world’s biggest Angelina Jolie fan. I find her cold and severe looking, too rail-thin, and just not as hot as some other men do. (TMI, perhaps?) Her new film Salt doesn’t exactly turn the tide for me. Here, Jolie plays a CIA agent who may or may not be a Russian spy. For the first half of the movie, I really didn’t care which side she was on. Her character didn’t engender much sympathy. And then, predictably, there’s a twist, but it doesn’t exactly make her more sympathetic — even though it’s probably supposed to. Salt has some decent stunts, a good chase scene or two, and Andre Braugher in a really random blink-and-you’ll-miss-him supporting role (seriously, what was the point of that??), but it’s just an average summer flick that thinks it’s more but really is just alright. You’ll have forgotten it by the next morning. I’m giving Salt a B–.

I “Like” This

20 Jul

I’m a believer that the quality and quantity of the trailers shown before a film can adversely or positively affect the moviegoing experience, no matter how good the movie itself is.

So suffice it to say, on Saturday, when I saw the awesome Inception, having the new trailer for The Social Network (i.e., the Facebook movie) playing before the film made the experience even better. Continue reading

Life Could Be a Dream

19 Jul

We’re not in Kansas anymore, kids.

Again.

Picking up where The Matrix left off, Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception, presents a reality that’s not quite what it seems.

And then Nolan layers it with twists and turns that only generate more questions and more questions.

The film’s like a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream.

Or is it?

Just how much of the action in Inception is real, and how much is a dream? That all depends on whether you want to swallow the red pill or the blue one. Continue reading