Monday, September 29, 2008


Tonight I saw Choke, starring Sam Rockwell and Angelica Houston.

Victor Mancini (Rockwell) is a seemingly incurable sex addict who makes a living as a "historical interpreter" (a.k.a. colonial theme park tour guide) in between meaningless sexual encounters and frequent visits with his mother Ida (Houston), who is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's or both.

The film is billed as a comedy, though "tragic comedy" would be more accurate. Rockwell's disheveled appearance and quirky speech patterns have him resembling a thirtysomething rendition of Dana Carvey, which is distracting when we're supposed to loathe him or simply feel enormous pity for him.

The film isn't primarily about sex (darn); it's more about a man whose life resembles a jigsaw puzzle of mystery that we're led to believe is exciting, but unfolds only to reveal more darkness.

We find sadness in Victor's orphan past, sadness in his dead-end present, sadness in his bleak future—and I haven't even mentioned the girl he's fallen for.

Despite all of that, I can't say I was bored, or that the acting was bad, because really it was quite good. But so much of the main character's numbness (and so many scenes from which the film draws its title) was hard to witness, I can't say I enjoyed it either.

There were some very funny situations and clever twists, but for me that wasn't enough of a payoff for the depressing mood it left me in.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ghost Town

Today I saw Ghost Town, starring Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear.

If you're in the mood for a lighthearted, clever-but-predictable ride, go see this movie.

A dentist who isn't so good with people, Dr. Pincus (Gervais), dies for seven minutes during a "routine operation" and returns with the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. And the ghosts have a lot of unfinished business they'd like him to attend to.

Frank (Kinnear) is guilty for being a bad husband in life, and wants to see his widow (Téa Leoni) happy, so he asks Dr. Pincus to intervene on his behalf and prevent her from marrying another man who he doesn't deem good enough for her.

Dr. Pincus reluctantly agrees to the plan, hoping all of the other spirits will go away after he fulfills this one wish, and ultimately falls in love with the widow himself.

Along the way, there are laugh-out-loud one-line jokes that only Gervais could deliver properly (which is why they work) and a tender love story that develops without being "too perfect."

It's the right blend of hilarity and heart, with a lot of redemption tossed in for good measure (even adulterers can go to heaven).

Ultimately, a pleasant alternative to formulaic meet-cute miasmas.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Humboldt County

Tonight I saw Humboldt County, starring Jeremy Strong and Chris Messina.

The story follows Peter (Strong), a bright medical student severely lacking in social skills, who follows a girl (Fairuza Balk) to Humboldt County and remains stranded with her family (though she disappears) for a long period of time.

The family is made up of hippie grandparents (Brad Dourif and the lovely Frances Conroy) who are raising their son and granddaughter, caring for random stray guests and harvesting large amounts of marijuana in the California forest where they reside.

Peter is a fish out of water in their carefree, illegal world, but soon acclimates to their casual lifestyle and befriends the son (Messina), who is more concerned about protecting his crops than preserving his life.

The film begins cleverly, with a very funny opening scene. And the strong presence of Fairuza Balk injects the landscape with a fresh dose of character but unfortunately lulls upon arrival at the hippie homestead (which could've been a set double for Aunt Sarah's pad in Six Feet Under).

The token child is charming and Peter's self-discovery is endearing, but overall, the writing felt too formulaic to be original.

The directors, however, did a fine job of framing the film and providing a very exciting climactic scene at the end. Just don't arrive expecting to see newness in the characters or the story.

Go see this instead for the gorgeous shots of Arcata, California and that beautiful nearby coastline.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Burn After Reading

Tonight I saw Burn After Reading, starring John Malkovich and Frances McDormand.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #60, which is available for download here.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Frozen River

Today I saw Frozen River, starring Melissa Leo and Misty Upham.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #59: click here to download it.