From today's Oregonian....
"Dan in Real Life" has a big fat lie for a title.
The movie stars Steve Carell as Dan, a lonely, widowed advice columnist who drags his three daughters to a family reunion. While he's out getting the paper one morning, he flirts with a woman named Marie (Juliette Binoche).
Then he finds out that she's on her way to the same family reunion -- because Marie happens to be dating Dan's jock brother Mitch (Dane Cook).
And it's here that the title becomes a lie. Because when director/co-writer Peter Hedges tries to persuade us that Dan is worthier of Marie's love than Mitch, the movie's idea of "real life" becomes ridiculous.
Because Dan, in real life, is a jerk.
Seriously: In no universe (other than the precious little microcosm created by this film) would Dan be considered anything other than a self-involved, passive-aggressive, stalkerish, pathetic, traitorous emotional amateur. Imagine what it would take to make an audience prefer Dane Cook over Steve Carell, then double it.
In fact, you could divide the movie's argument into two columns:
In the "DAN DESERVES MARIE" column, you could list:
And in the "DAN DOESN'T DESERVE MARIE" column?
I could see people enjoying "Dan in Real Life," I guess -- the scenery is nice and the people are pretty and the songs are cute little emotion substitutes. But Dan? Buddy? It's not all about you.
D; 98 minutes; rated PG-13 for some innuendo.
'Dan in Real Life' (The Oregonian, Oct. 26, 2007)
From today's Oregonian....
Lars (Ryan Gosling) is shy, polite and utterly insane.
When we first meet him in "Lars and the Real Girl," he seems like your garden-variety indie oddball. Lars is hiding under a mustache and layers of clothing and lives in his brother's garage in a small northern town, all frozen smiles and flinching and fear. He's so terrified of human contact, he must literally be tackled by his pregnant sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) to get him to walk across the yard to have dinner with her.
Then, one day, he opens up a little -- proudly announcing he has a visitor. "She doesn't speak much English, though," he says. "She's in a wheelchair."
Her name is Bianca. And she is a "RealDoll," an ultra-lifelike, anatomically correct silicone sex puppet. Lars is under the impression that this fully poseable mannequin is a living human being -- his (chaste) girlfriend, actually -- and that the entire town should welcome her with open arms.
"He appears to have a delusion," says the town doctor (Patricia Clarkson) who is also, conveniently, a clinical psychologist and master of the obvious. When will it stop? "When he doesn't need it any more. Bianca's in town for a reason."
I'm sure, in terms of real psychology, that "Lars and the Real Girl" is practically science fiction -- particularly after the entire town (yes, the (entire town) decides to humor Lars in the collective hope that he'll snap out of it. But as a fable that quietly evolves from a comedy into a drama right under your nose, producing some low-key cognitive dissonance in the process, "Lars" is surprisingly touching and humane, thanks to its restrained direction and strong performances and sweet-hearted script.
Director Craig Gillespie has had a strange year. His previous directorial credit is "Mr. Woodcock," a B-grade Billy Bob Thornton comedy from which Gillespie was fired before extensive reshoots. But here, the director has total command of the complicated emotions in Nancy Oliver's screenplay -- gently pointing out the insanities we all indulge (superstitions, kleptomania, conspiracy theories, emotional investment in action figures and dolls) and asking us to be generous.
Gosling is excellent at playing a character who's fundamentally unknowable, spending much of his time doing Oscar-nominee-caliber acting against an inanimate (and, from certain angles, unnervingly lifelike) object. And Kelli Garner is adorable as the office-mate with an irrational crush on Lars; she has perfected what I can only describe as "effervescent awkwardness."
The movie's weakest point is its too-quick ending, one more implausibility on a pigpile of them. But by that point, the movie, like Bianca, has largely proven a useful insanity.
(BTW, Dawn Taylor has a lovely report on the preview-screening audience for this film -- an audience so rude and confused I literally had to move across the theater to another seat to do my job.)
B; 106 minutes; rated PG-13 for some sex-related content.
'Lars and the Real Girl' (The Oregonian, Oct. 26, 2007)
In their latest comic -- now available in its entirety on Webcomics Nation -- beloved instructional cartoon characters Mr. Do and Mr. Don't™ survey the October arts scene in Portland. Mayhem may ensue.
Mr. Do and Mr. Don't celebrate October in Portland (Webcomics Nation)
As promised to readers of the Saturday, Oct. 20 Oregonian:
Here's the longer, harsher version of my Q&A with Bruce Campbell
and Mike Richardson....
B-movie superstar Bruce Campbell and Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson first met on the set of 1992's "Army of Darkness."
"Ever since," says Richardson, "I've been trying to coerce Bruce to get into business with us, through hypnotism and other forms of trickery."
"Mostly deceit," says Campbell.
They haven't had too much trouble finding the Venn-diagram intersection of their fan bases. Mr. Richardson sits atop Dark Horse's empire of comic books and movies, and Mr. Campbell has earned a passionate cult following for his dork-hunk work on films like "Evil Dead 2" and "Bubba Ho-Tep."
In recent years, Campbell has co-written Dark Horse's comics adaptation of the actor's own movie "Man with the Screaming Brain," and also scripted a Dark Horse comic based on BMW's short-film series "The Hire." But their most ambitious collaboration is still on its way: Richardson is producing "My Name Is Bruce" -- a forthcoming horror-comedy in which a sleazy actor named "Bruce Campbell" is kidnapped by small-town yokels in the fictional town of Gold Lick, Oregon; they believe the thespian really is the zombie-slaying hero of the "Evil Dead" series, and want him to battle a real-life Chinese demon. Campbell co-wrote, directed and stars in the movie, and shot much of it on his property in Jacksonville, Oregon.
Tonight (Saturday, Oct. 20), the pair join forces onstage at the Aladdin Theater for a live taping of OPB's "Live Wire" radio show. They got on the phone with The Oregonian earlier this week to chat up "My Name Is Bruce" and the complications of fandom; an edited transcript follows the jump.
It gets a (nervous?) laugh from the Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival crowd, but it's also true. Canadian director Guy Maddin's black-and-white fever dream is an extended -- and very silent -- movie, in which a fictional "Guy Maddin" recalls his surreal and occasionally psychosexual childhood on an island orphanage run by his parents. 
The movie's funny and weird and jittery, full of jump-cuts and hysterically overwrought title cards. Maddin edits it to look like it was filmed with a hand-cranked camera in 1915 while unspooling on a projector that's about to fly off its sprockets. 
But the movie's only part -- and maybe not even the biggest part -- of the entertainment. The "trick" promised by Hook is the accompanying live soundtrack. The movie unspools above an 11-piece orchestra, a singing "castrato" in a tuxedo (actually a male actor lip-synching to an offstage female singer), and some mind-blowing sound-effects work by the Aono Jikken Ensemble.
The show's biggest distraction, actually, is watching the eldest member of the sound-effects group, diminutive Suzie Kozawa, strap a silver hard-hat festooned with water cups and straws to her head to simulate the sound of a bubbling ocean. Pre-show, Kozawa stands ready with a battery of props that include four seemingly identical, neatly arranged cow-in-a-can sound boxes. Is that for redundancy? "No, they're all different pitches," says Kozawa. "I drove the toy-store people nuts looking for those."
Oh, and here's legendary actress Karen Black ("Nashville," "Five Easy Pieces") glittering in one corner of the stage. She's one of a series of live narrators on the film's traveling road show; others have included Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and Crispin Glover. And she's absolutely hilarious -- especially when she's interpreting the voice of Maddin's onscreen mother as a nagging cacophony of guilt trips and hysterical moans.
Ms. Black, 62, has earned a reputation as one of the hardest-working women in show business; she made seven movies in 2003 and five this year; she's jetting from Portland to Washington, D.C. for a one-woman show. Her refusal to slow down has garnered her some disparate cult fan bases: She's approached by Altman fans and horror aficionados, the latter thanks to her turns in fare like "Trilogy of Terror" and "House of 1000 Corpses."
She tucked into a theater seat for a quick post-show chat. An edited transcript follows the jump.
From the Friday, Oct. 19 Oregonian....
"30 Days of Night" is one of those high-concept movie ideas that's so good, I'm surprised we haven't seen it sooner:
What if a pack of vampires descended on northern Alaska during one of those long periods without daylight -- and treated an entire town as a 24-hour buffet?
As one of the vampires says early on: "We should have come here ages ago."
The film's adapted from the comic book of the same name, and (in a nice change from the usual drill) greatly expands and sharpens the source material. In fact, the movie recalls nothing so much as "Thing"-era John Carpenter, and not just because it's set in the snow.
Like the best Carpenter flicks, "30 Days of Night" features everyfolk under siege in a horrible environment, trying to make their way to questionable safety under the leadership of a messed-up hero. In this case, that hero is the asthmatic, depressed, nearly divorced sheriff of Barrow, Alaska (Josh Hartnett). Director David Slade ("Hard Candy") patiently builds the world weighing down on Hartnett -- the cold, the snow, the looming dark, the troubled marriage to a fire marshal (Melissa George), and the mysterious series of vandalism crimes that trap 152 people in Barrow without phones or light or easy means of escape.
After everything quite literally goes to hell, Slade delivers more character development, suspense and genuine surprise than we've seen from a vampire movie in many years. "30 Days" features some vivid horror thrills -- including the most graphic decapitation I've ever seen -- but it also bothers to earn them.
This is largely thanks to the film's overwhelming sense of place (which was almost nonexistent in the background-free comic). There's one great overhead shot of the carnage unfolding on the streets of Barrow, and another great shot where human "bait" walks down the street as out-of-focus, barely visible undead track her from the rooftops. The character touches are great, too: I love that the vampires appear to be led by a Romanian insurance salesman, and Ben Foster does his usual sterling psychopath turn as the human who acts as the vamps' John the Baptist.
It's not perfect or "Shining"-level inspired (or, for that matter, as good as the Carpenter films it emulates), but it's solid. Not every moment works. There are a few too many minor characters -- to the degree where you're not always sure who's getting killed. And this is, ultimately, the sort of thriller where if you see a large piece of machinery with bone-crushing gears, there will in fact be some bone-crushing fan-service later in the film. But that feels like quibbling; this is smart genre entertainment.
B; 113 minutes; rated R for strong horror violence and language.
'30 Days of Night' (The Oregonian, Oct. 19, 2007)
From the Oct. 19 Oregonian....
"Reservation Road" has all the makings of prestige Oscar bait: It's adapted from a piece of literary fiction. It's produced by "Random House Films." It stars Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connolly (and Dakota Fanning's little sister) as grieving, upwardly mobile New Englanders wearing their finest tweed while yelling and bawling hysterically. It's co-written and directed by the fellow who helmed "Hotel Rwanda." And it deals handsomely with themes of guilt and revenge and forgiveness and hey, you know, its heart is in the right place.
So why does the movie feel so contrived and shallow?
The plot of "Reservation Road" probably played just fine swathed in John Burnham Schwartz's spare-yet-elegant lit-fic sentences. But freed of those sentences, that same plot is coincidence-driven and diagrammatic -- and about as silly as a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode.
A small-town lawyer (Ruffalo) kills the son of a small-town professor (Phoenix) during a hit-and-run. But then Phoenix hires Ruffalo to put pressure on the cops to find the driver! And the dead boy's music teacher (Mira Sorvino) turns out to be Ruffalo's ex-wife! And lo, the ironies compound! Both men love(d) their sons equally! One finds his humanity while the other loses his -- and who loses and who gains may surprise you! Serious Acting Opportunities™ abound!
Unfortunately, sharp dialogue and characters who keep you riveted do not.
C; 102 minutes; rated R for language and some disturbing images.
'Reservation Road' (The Oregonian, Oct. 19, 2007)
Movie review in the Friday, Oct. 12 Oregonian....
"We Own the Night" opens with a terrific montage of vintage, black-and-white photographs of New York City policemen at work. During it, we learn that "We Own the Night" is the slogan found on a patch for the NYPD Street Crime unit.
It's a bold claim -- and one that's very much in doubt as the movie opens in 1988 Brooklyn. The NYPD is getting pounded by a family of ruthless Russian coke dealers who operate out of a nightclub managed by Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix).
But what the Russians don't know is that Bobby's real name is Bobby Grusinsky, and that he changed it to put a wedge between himself and his family, which he hates -- a family that includes a father (Robert Duvall) and a brother (Mark Wahlberg) who are high-ranking New York cops.
The setup plays like a mirror-image "Godfather": A stoned Bobby and his girlfriend (Eva Mendes) reluctantly attend family gatherings of straight-arrow cops led by Duvall. Bobby struggles with family loyalty after the Russians take out contracts on his dad and brother. And writer/director James Gray ("The Yards," "Little Odessa") drives the parallels home by shooting family and police gatherings in Coppola-esque long shots full of awesomely grim-faced old dudes (including Ed Koch, playing himself). There are even moments where the musical score seems to sample Nino Rota.
Unfortunately, for all its visual and actorly strength, "We Own the Night" ends up being one of those 75-percent-there kind of film experiences. It's not for lack of effort: Gray takes his time sketching the Russian and NYPD families in ways that feel authentic (he comes from a Russian-immigrant family, and it shows). And there are impressively staged set pieces -- especially one rain-soaked car chase filmed almost entirely from the point of view of the most frightened driver.
But the solemn words coming out of people's mouths never quite grab the viewer in a way that's vital or compelling.
"We Own the Night" has an epic shape and an epic look, but I can't remember a single thing the characters said. Bobby's family felt, to me, like chess pieces in a heavy-handed grand vision rather than furious, full-blooded human beings. (Wahlberg, in particular, seems to be doing a remix of his "Departed" character, only without the lacerating wit afforded by an Oscar-winning script.)
And a few moments -- especially one where a character strides bravely out of a smoking field holding a shotgun -- come off as self-consciously Handsome and Important, in that weird way you sometimes find in movies that work overtime to be Great American Films but don't quite catch the lightning bolt.
This is a perfectly serviceable thriller, mind. It's just not the New York family crime saga it clearly wants to be.
C-plus; 117 minutes; rated R for strong violence, drug material, language, some sexual content and brief nudity.
'We Own the Night' (The Oregonian, Oct. 12, 2007)