Daily Film Thoughts: A few 2009 features.

In keeping up with TIFF and such, I haven’t been posting many capsule reviews as of late. Hopefully I’ll be able to do another ‘Daily Film Thoughts’ tomorrow, but that probably won’t happen as I’ll be focusing more on my review for District 9.

First up is The Goods. Live Hard. Sell Hard – America’s latest attempt on capitalizing on false advertising. After believing that this feature was scripted by the duo that brought us Step Brothers, I went in looking for a good time. What I got was a half-assed attempt at a self-aware semi-parody of your typical schmaltzy comedy.

Jeremy Piven is the lead as Don Ready. With his ‘slick as a 40’s hairdo’ group of unique individuals they go city to city to sell the unsellable; used cars in desolate areas. With an exhausted trio by his side and a troubling past blocking his emotions, Don is fixated on doing one thing and one thing only – a good job. Soon after, a romantic entanglement and a belief that one of the young employees at Selleck’s Used Cars (the groups latest place of occupation) is his child begin to cause Don detriment; they make him believe in the larger picture that life has to offer. This, the same picture he’s been shamelessly ignoring for months now and the same picture his ragtag group of pals have been pointing at.

Humor comes and goes – a definite flaw in a film that attributes all of its running time to comedy. The spoofish plot has very little stability, so unless you’re aiming solely to have a few cheap laughs, I’d advise against you seeing this.

This smokey 90 minutes finds most comically impressive moments through pseudo-pedophilia, blatant bigotry and homosexual innuendos – so unless you have the mind of a teenager, I doubt you’ll find much pleasure from this. Oh, and lets not forget Will Ferrell’s astute cameo that truly rises above the material. In the most absurd scene of the film that was probably entirely improvised, Will Ferrell shows the audiences one more time why he’s the top name in current comedy. One of his best scenes in ages.

With less stability than an infant learning how to walk and a laugh at the dramatics that goes far too over the top to be completely immersed in the humor at hand, The Goods only wishes it could deliver as well as its main characters. [3/10]

A bit late to the game, I know, but I can go without expressing my feelings about this years worst attempt at a psychological thriller turned horror. Of course, I am speaking about Orphan. The only aspect saving this film from being utter trash is the eccentric cast.

Before divulging into the murky mess that this film is, let me take you back two years. The year is 2007 and contemporary horror cinema hasn’t felt the cool grip from a subversive child in sometime. A child hell bent on destruction and hoping to tilt the atmosphere so those around him fall off and land in a swirling cesspool of chaos. The film is Joshua and it stars Sam Rockwell (an underrated actor) and Vera Farmiga. The story is about one child’s inability to cope with the attention once entirely focused on him now being altered towards that of his new baby sister. Playing psychological games with his mother and father and creating a world where all those close to the family believe only what he says and begin to shun the family. It underplays the horror creating a tense and humble thriller that only dips its toes into horror through dark comedy.

Jump to 2009 and Orphan. A story where a family of four just had their latest member taken away from them before they got to know her; a stillbirth. The parents of the family – John and Kate, played by Peter Sarsgaard (an underrated actor) and Vera Farmiga… (getting the similarities yet?) – go to an orphanage, stumble across a precocious, artistically impressive and apt young girl named Esther. They, of course, pick her from the bunch of normal children for the most one-dimensional reasons (oh, she is like… different!) and they take her home. Soon after we come to realize that something is wrong with Esther – she is unlike all other children! She has a fascination with traditional dresses, ribbons around her neck and wrists and the bible. Shortly after it becomes apparent that she has an issue with everyone but that father of the family, John, a calm businessman who believes Kate is simply paranoid and opts to take Esther’s word over hers. Why don’t the two other children speak up? Well they’ve both had their arms twisted by the young sociopath and the youngest, Maxine is almost completely deaf.

As Esther’s plan comes more and more into fruition and the story takes several ridiculous turns, the plotting, characters and theme begins to jump the shark. It goes from a somewhat tense psychological thriller with a bundle of cheap scares into a zany self-parody. The film appears to take itself far too seriously for any sort of campiness to be intended, which begs me to ask not the question of “What was wrong with Esther?” but rather, “What was wrong with the filmmakers?”. [3/10]


I saved the best for last with this one. The film is The Boat That Rocked – or what has now been renamed by American executives as ‘Pirate Radio‘ in a cheap marketing ploy – and it certainly did rock.

Directed and written by one of the most popular British filmmakers of today in Richard Curtis (Love, Actually & Four Weddings and a Funeral), one should only expect the best from this very inflated story inspired by events much less harsh than the ones expressed in the film. If you’re going in expecting an entirely true story, look the other way because this is as fictionalized as Twilight.

The story centers around a group of men – some young, most old; most laidback, some professional. Even though they have clear differences, these men (and one woman; a lesbian, but a woman) manage to find common ground through a mutual connection; their love for music. Being set off the British coast sending their radio signal to eager fans causes for a bit of infamy – certainly an added incentive to this dopey group.

Headed by an American named The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), everyday is pretty much a party. Almost everything they do is work, but its also play at the same time. Same goes for the film itself – it is an arduous effort. However, unlike the boat, it certainly comes off less professional. The political statements made by Mr. Curtis are very explicit and become grating after only the second political scene; the story is rather formulaic though the eyes of the lead character ‘Young’ Carl (Tom Strurridge) as it grows more and more into your typical coming-of-age tale, no matter how different the situation is for him. Add onto that the underutilized dramatic tension. I can count the number of minutes on my hand that have any sort of conflict… in a film that is over two hours long, that doesn’t impress.

However, if you go into the feature open-minded and expect a laid back and humorous affair, you should be fine. The ensemble is one of the best I’ve seen all year – Hoffman delivers yet again with fantastic comedic timing and giving the boat that authentic dirtiness. If the film stuck to being apolitical, it certainly would’ve had a more virtuous effect on me.

Universal Pictures bumped the feature to an Oscar release (mid November) from its previous August date. Hopefully they’re setting their sights on accumulating some sort of Academy recognition, because it wouldn’t be unlikely to see Hoffman garner his fourth nomination with his performance here. If this does happen… well, that would certainly rock the boat. [7/10]


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