MOVIE REVIEW: A MIXED BAG OF MOVIES THIS WEEK
Jewtopia-A Single Shot-Thanks for Sharing-Generation Iron
There’s something for everyone this week with a mixed bag of movies opening at the box office and some of them concurrently airing on VOD. Offering up everything from pee-in-your-pants laughter to reflective contemplation, let’s take a look at some of your movie choices this week.
Many of you may have heard of and/or experienced the phenomena called JEWTOPIA. What began as a small stage production in Los Angeles ten years ago morphed into a smash Broadway hit and spawned an hilarious coffee table book. Now, eight years after first pondering a film version, Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson, co-creators of JEWTOPIA, adapt the stage production for the big screen with Fogel making his directorial debut to beyond hilarious results.
Christian O’Connell wants a woman; a woman who will make every decision for him for the rest of his life. Despondent after a college break-up nine years earlier, he has still hasn’t been able to “get back on the horse”. But then Fate, or God, smiles on him and leads this nice Gentile boy to the local synagogue for a singles mixer. Worse than a fish-out-of-water, Christian meets the beautiful Alison. The poster child for “love at first sight” as he fawns over Alison, Christian faces a bigger problem. He’s not Jewish and Alison is the daughter of the synagogue’s rabbi and his socially prominent wife. Oy! What’s a boy to do! To start with, lie and tell the girl his name is Avi Rosenberg and that he’s a doctor - the dream combination for the stereotypical Jewish mother. And in Christian’s case, call on his childhood best friend, Adam Lipschitz, for a crash course in “how to act Jewish.” Mind you, thanks to Christian’s military father and countless moves from city to city over his lifetime, Christian and Adam have been out of touch for years, but given the loyalty that Christian exhibited for Adam following a rather embarrassing incident, it’s time to call in his marker of friendship.
With rapid-fire hilarity, Adam subjects Christian to an intensive course of “Jew-dification” and hand holding as Christian aka Dr. Rosenberg tries to win the heart and hand of Alison. In the meantime, Adam has problems of his own as he prepares for his own wedding to Hannah Daniels, female ob-gyn and local shrew with enough self-righteous “It’s all about me” to raise the Titanic. Compounding Adam’s problems are his parents, the king and queen of the family business, Embroidery Palace.
The JEWTOPIA cast is an embarrassment of comedic riches. In a surprise casting, Ivan Sergei, probably best known for his work on “Crossing Jordan” and “Charmed”, easily slides into the role of Christian (which was originally played by w/d Fogel in the stage production). With boyish charm, extreme good looks and a naivete that bodes inherent humor, Sergei is perfect. But playing hand-in-hand with that perfection is Joel David Moore. As Adam, Moore is the epitome of hapless, yet methodical frustration and I must say, has one of the funniest mental breakdowns ever seen on screen.
But the real magic happens with the “supporting” family members, starting with Rita Wilson and Jon Lovitz as Adam’s parents, Dennis and Arlene Lipschitz. Rita Wilson has never been better! Hysterical, over-the-top, she milks the role with everything she’s got and as soon as she finishes one scene, she starts all over again. Wilson is divine. As Dennis, Lovitz is actually a bit sedate allowing Wilson’s Arlene to wear the attitude pants in the family, yet Lovitz is the glue of the Lipschitz family.
Peter Stormare relishes every movement, every utterance, as the gun-toting, game hunting soldier Buck O’Connell. And then there’s Tom Arnold sidling into the role of ob/gyn Dr. Bruce Daniels with the ease and command of a woman slipping her legs into the stirrups at the doctor’s office. Nicollette Sheridan is easy breezy as dutiful housewife Betsy O’Connell while Camryn Manheim goes toe-to-toe with Arnold as wife and fellow ob/gyn, Eileen Daniels. Pure delight is Wendie Malick at her acerbic, hoity-toity best as Alison’s mother, Marci Marks.
Jennifer Love Hewitt is the epitome of flawless beauty with her take on Alison while Jamie-Lyn Sigler steals the thunder as Adam’s fiancé, Hannah.
Over-the-top is an understatement when it comes to describing the comedy. Fogel and Wolfson push everything to the limit and go to extremes playing with cultural and religious stereotypes to great comedic effect. Sexual humor, anatomical humor, ethnic humor, family dynamics - nothing is off limits . Quite honestly, I laughed so hard that I had to watch the film a second time just to hear all the jokes I missed due to laughter. Interesting is that while JEWTOPIA the movie is an adaptation of the play, all that essentially remains of the play is the core idea and the character, with situations being expanded and invented based on the expansiveness that film provides over a single stage
As a director, Fogel has a keen eye. He keeps the story and the action in constant motion be it visually or with dialogue, never allowing the audience or the film to lose its comedic momentum, or its heart.
Predictable? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. Funny? Oh my God, yes!
A SINGLE SHOT
What is supposed to be a thriller, A SINGLE SHOT, is more like a lone dud or loud thud in this adaptation by Matthew F. Jones of his own novel. Directed by David M. Rosenthal, Sam Rockwell leads the charge as John Moon. A simple dairy farmer just scraping by after the loss of the family farm, his wife has left him and taken their infant son with her, leaving him to mourn their departure in the solitude of the local woods where he hunts deer and other game.
Known for his somewhat illegal hunting and having had more than one run in with the law over poaching, on this dewy dank and dreary day, Moon is out chasing down a deer. Shooting at a moving target, he hears it fall and runs over to grab his kill. But its not a deer that he’s brought down. It’s a young girl and she’s dead. Knowing his past, knowing this hunt was illegal and still begging his wife to return home because he’s a “good guy”, Moon realizes that no one can learn of this killing. Scouting the area, he finds where the girl has been squatting. He also finds a large stash of cash.
Hiding the dead body in a dumpster, Moon takes the cash, believing it will solve all of his problems. But we all know what comes from ill-gotten gains; especially when the gains are the property of hardened killers. As to be expected, in this rural West Virginia town, it doesn’t take long before every unsavory character around is after him, coming at him from all sides with violence escalating at every turn.
Given the poorly scripted adaptation, Sam Rockwell does what he can with the convoluted madness. Accepting John Moon as a flawed character, Rockwell not only plays on Moon’s shortcomings, but adds nuanced lawyers of humanity and kindness that is not only touching, but evokes empathy. Given the interesting character study that Rockwell delivers with a poor script, I can only imagine what he would have done with something more cinematic and unfettered.
William H. Macy makes an all too-brief appearance as the local lawyer, Pitt. With bad toupee, ugly polyester plaid jacket, and a gimped right arm and leg as if post-stroke or polio, Pitt is a man with a seemingly harmless, yet duplicitous, duality which, again, Macy is not given a chance to fully explore. Supporting local criminals are stereotypical and undefined yet are portrayed by notable actors who have nothing to really work with - Jason Isaacs (who is surprisingly one-note as ex-con Waylon), Ted Levine, Jeffrey Wright - all fall into a mumble jumble of too many characters and an undefined and refined plot.
Eduard Grau’s cinematography is oppressive, hazy and murky as if the entire film was shot under a metaphoric fog; particularly disappointing given the importance of handwritten notes displayed on screen but under the visual mire, are unreadable.
If you’re going to take a single shot with A SINGLE SHOT, make it Jones’ novel (which is excellent) or some sippin’ whiskey to get you through the film.
THANKS FOR SHARING
As we saw last year with “Shame” and on tv with “Californication”, sex addiction is slowly finding its way into the plethora of addictions and diseases as subjects for film and tv. Becoming more acceptable for public discussion, entering the conversation this week s Stuart Blumberg’s THANKS FOR SHARING.
Focusing on the acclaimed 12-step program utilized by so many groups for treating addictions of all sorts, THANKS FOR SHARING focuses on a core group of four - Mike - happily married and 20 years “sober”, Adam - an upscale working professional now 5 years “sober”, Neil - a young ER doctor who has entered the program but isn’t adhering to it thanks to his obsession with porn, and DeDe - a 20-something hairdresser who can only relate to men through abuse and sex. And going hand-in-hand with sex addiction, the film addresses co-dependent addictions that can contribute or lead to the sex addition.
Never preachy or extreme, THANKS FOR SHARING explores interpersonal relationships as each of the principals tries to get through their lives from day to day and, more importantly, move forward in them without sacrificing their sexual sobriety. Significant to the story construct is the introduction of a female into the 12-step group and making her a major player in the storyline - and very successfully at that. Standout is that while one would expect the veteran sponsors Mike and Adam to be front and center, it’s actually DeDe and Neil who are the heart and soul of the film, the driving energy, and the real teachers and sponsors as they develop a bond of friendship and support that is almost enviable. Mike and Adam are drawn with a complacency that makes one feel like each will fall from grace; very predictable.
Blumberg, who marks THANKS FOR SHARING as his directorial debut, delivers a well-written and well-acted film. With the cast boasts the depth and experience of Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins, as Adam and Mike, respectively, who give the performances and the film as a whole backbone and grounding, it’s Josh Gad and Alecia Moore aka P!nk as Neil and DeDe, who give the film its wings of hope and joy. While Gad and Moore are superb, Moore is mind-blowing emotional excellence. The one mis-cast is Gwyneth Paltrow as Phoebe, a hot judgmental and demanding girl with designs on Mike. Paltrow gives Phoebe too much of an unlikeable edge, part of which is due to one insensitive sex scene that falls out of line with the story and characters as a whole.
THANKS FOR SHARING is not only a wonderful character study, but a story that is thoughtful, textured and respectfully honest, infused with an organic humor and tender caring.
Entering the documentary world of pumping iron, Vlad Yudin gives us GENERATION IRON. Taking us on a journey into the history of Mr. Olympia (including interviews and cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Mike Katz), Yudin sculpts everything into focus as he follows the seven hottest contenders vying for the 2012 world title at the Olympia championships in Las Vegas.
Travelling around the globe, we meet up close and personal, the 2011 Mr. Olympia and defending champ Phil Heath; positioning Heath in a Rocky Balboa vs Clubber Lang “Rocky III” storyline, Brooklynite underdog Kai Greene flexes his artistic muscle; Texas rancher and elder statesman Branch Warren shows he’s still got some game; OCDC better-training-through-science Ben Pulaski proves an egomaniacal annoyance; Japanese emigre Hidetada Yamagishi is an odd lot in the mix; the oh-so-charming German Dennis Wolf dazzles with dimples, warmth and intelligence; and the Curacao-born, female-trained Roelly Winklaar proves to be the one you want to see fail.
Examining the lives of each, as well as psychological philosophies, dedication, work ethic and training methods, Yudin gets some of the guys to open up with some honest emotions while others are nothing more than examples of inflated egos that rival the size of their biceps, poor sportsmanship and manipulators of their own stories and screen appearances. Appreciative is that Yudin never allows the camera to objectify the men or their muscles, but merely observe.