F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 3, 2015)

3 09 2015

Afternoon DelightJill Soloway appears in just about any feature being published these days about the changing face of television for women behind the camera and trans representation in front of it.  Even before “Transparent” landed at Amazon, she was making waves as a writer and producer on shows like “Six Feet Under,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “United States of Tara.”  And somewhere in her schedule, she found time to make a narrative film.

Had I been paying attention to her feature debut, “Afternoon Delight,” I would surely have run instead of walked to “Transparent.”  This character-driven dramedy lives up to the latter word in its title … and would suffice at any time of day, for that matter.  Soloway serves as writer as well as director, and her voice shines through in the movie, my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

“Afternoon Delight” might mark the first film to fully realize the wealth of talent possessed by Kathryn Hahn, an actress dangerously close to becoming the next Judy Greer.  She’s almost too good at making her presence felt without overpowering the lead, be it dramatically in “Revolutionary Road” or comedically in a movie like “We’re the Millers” or television’s “Parks and Recreation.”  But Soloway grants her lead status here, and she runs away with the film.

Hahn’s character Rachel, a stereotypical L.A. Jewish carpool mom, needs something to get her out of a rut.  A lethal cocktail of sexual frustration and the white female savior complex leads her to “rescue” a stripper, Juno Temple’s McKenna.  If Rachel wanted something to shake up her relationships with her husband and friends, she certainly gets that and more with her new “nanny.”  McKenna becomes an object of pity for Rachel, yet her presence also draws out the green monster of jealousy.

The cumulative effect manages to spark some major changes, not all of which are good.  But if you need any indication of just how gifted a storyteller Soloway is, watch how much more you feel for Rachel as her behavior goes from erratic to desperate to practically indefensible.  Her characters, be they small or silver screen, never lose their solid steeping in humanity.  I can only hope “Afternoon Delight” is not the full extent of Soloway’s venture into feature filmmaking.  The world of indie cinema needs her gifts too much.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 21, 2012)

21 12 2012

There are few movies in the world that can make me laugh harder than “Role Models,” my pick for “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  An R-rated romp that slipped through the cracks for most upon release in 2008, David Wain’s riotous comedy is fantastic through and through.  It’s held up miraculously well, too – trust me, I’ve watched it dozens of times and still bust a gut.

As the two leads doing a comic man/straight man routine, Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd are absolute perfection.  Scott gets to play the absurd variation of the Stifler character for “American Pie” that made him famous, while Paul Rudd plays perhaps his best bleakly blunt pessimist yet.  Though Rudd rings real in opposition to the ridiculous Scott, that doesn’t mean he’s grim or depressing.  Rather, he’s all the funnier and relatable as Paul Rudd proves once again he might be the most adept actor at bringing all our frustrations and annoyances to comedic light.

The free-wheeling Wheeler (Scott) and Danny (Rudd) find themselves in a world of trouble after a particularly bad day on the job peddling energy drinks to kids.  But rather than go to prison for their trail of destruction, they wind up getting community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-Little Brother type program.  The two quickly find out that prison is a more appealing option than most people would consider.

First of all, Sturdy Wings is run by a crackpot ex-alcoholic and drug addict, Gayle Sweeney – played by Jane Lynch pre-Sue Sylvester (this part probably got her that character).  And to say she steals the show is a vast understatement.  You only hear every other line from her because your laughs from one line bleed over well into the next one.  She speaks in bizarre metaphors that don’t make sense and LOVES reminding everyone of her former habits to a painstakingly hilarious extent.

And Gayle pairs them with two “littles” that scared off everyone else who was volunteering.  Wheeler gets stuck with a firecracker in Ronnie, a crude and manipulative little version of himself.  Danny, on the other hand, is given Augie, an introvert with a good heart that loves nothing more than a good live-action roleplaying game.  Their adventures are strange and funny, leading them to campfires and virtual battlefields, but David Wain brings a funny-bone and a heart to every moment of it.  His “Role Models” packs an excellent message of mentoring and guidance towards becoming a better person without ever being sappy or cheesy; rather, he finds a way to get it across smoothly with laughs, smiles, and good feelings all around.





REVIEW: Wreck-It Ralph

15 12 2012

Wreck It RalphI think Disney got their brands switched up this year.  “Wreck-It Ralph” felt like the real Pixar movie, and “Brave” felt like the kind of fun but unmemorable Disney animated movie from the people who brought you “Tangled.”

Much to my surprise, “Wreck-It Ralph” left me walking away with a wide grin and a full heart, something that the Pixar movies of my youth like “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” did so well.  It’s a movie with undeniable charm and a winning spirit, one that envelops you in a giant bear hug.  Not to mention, it also boasts a brilliant script with pop culture references and cleverly constructed worlds and humor not unlike what DreamWorks Animation did particularly well in the “Shrek” films.

It also rolls deep with an impressive voice cast, adding another dimension of enjoyment to the proceedings.  They could not have picked a better person than John C. Reilly to play Wreck-It Ralph.  As a video-game villain who just wants people to recognize him, Reilly is able to bring all the same sympathetic sad-sack pity that he used as Amos Hart (Mr. Cellophane) in “Chicago.”  The innocence in his voice and the yearning to be accepted come across in Ralph’s first monologue, and we are on his side from the get-go as he tries to find someone to appreciate him.

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