The Friday, Feb. 22 Oregonian A&E cover. Pencils and inks by yrs. truly. Colors (in two variations) by Bill Mudron. (They went with the blue backdrop for newsprint, but posted both online.) Click to enlarge.
This earnest, message-driven documentary from the creators of HBO's "Taxicab Confessions" checks in with eight Portland families over the winter of 2011-12 as they struggle to make ends meet and navigate various public-assistance programs in the wake of the Great Recession. Visits with each family as they suffer the humiliations and threats of unemployment, foreclosure, eviction, hunger, utility shut-offs and moving back in with their parents are interspersed rhythmically with stat-filled title cards, musical interludes and talking-head interviews with Portland Commissioner Nick Fish and social-service advocates and workers.
I understand the number of families visited shows the terrifying cross-cultural scope of the crisis, but frankly wish co-directors Joe and Harry Gantz had spent more time with fewer subjects, allowing us to dive deeper into each family's struggles and history. But it's hard to argue with the doc's larger point -- a forceful, direct argument that it's much smarter to invest in helping people in need before they hit rock bottom.
Super-rough sketch for my contribution to my pal Robert Wagner's Seekrit Project. (Look closely and you'll see it was drawn in my movie-review notebook for "Identity Thief," so I guess that evening wasn't a total waste.) Click to enlarge. More soon.
Longer cut of a review in the Friday, Feb. 8 Oregonian....
The deadly dull action-comedy "Identity Thief" is an infuriating waste of everyone's time, on all sides of camera and screen. I did not know I could yawn angrily. This movie somehow proved it possible.
There's the promise of a timely paranoid comedy in the premise, at least. Mid-level account manager Sandy (Jason Bateman) has a third kid on the way and makes barely enough to pay his bills. He's one of those quietly terrified middle-class wage-earners who manage to ski just ahead of financial avalanche. His career upswing is endangered when a Florida grifter (Melissa McCarthy of "Bridesmaids" fame) steals his identity and racks up credit-card bills, petty arrests and bail-skipping in his gender-neutral name.
For roughly five minutes, "Identity Thief" plays with a comedically exaggerated version of the very real helplessness the victim feels in that situation -- the way identity theft visits an unasked-for second career of name-clearing on the injured party. After the police finally stop arresting Bateman's character for McCarthy's misdeeds, they start fobbing off responsibility to other jurisdictions and promising to clear things up in maybe a year. And the police attention creates just enough suspicion among Bateman's new employers to endanger his career in finance for no other reason than the suggestion of possible untrustworthiness.
But then Bateman decides to head to Florida and drag McCarthy back to Colorado himself to face charges. And the movie suddenly devolves into a tired road-trip comedy that gets lazier and stupider and more weirdly violent with each precious passing second.
Bateman is justly revered for perfecting the deadpan everyman in "Arrested Development" and elsewhere. McCarthy blazingly reinvented herself as an over-the-top comedy actor in "Bridemaids." Director Seth Gordon made a hilarious documentary in "King of Kong" and didn't embarrass himself with the uneven but frequently funny "Horrible Bosses." Which makes it all the more painful when this trio works off a screenplay by Craig Mazin ("The Hangover: Part II," "Scary Movie" 3 and 4) and ends up reaching for comic fruit that's hanging so low, it's more or less gathering flies on the ground.
How low does the fruit hang, you ask? How about multiple repeating lazy gags about Sandy's "unisex" name, McCarthy's loud outfits, McCarthy throat-punching people, McCarthy telling strangers outlandish stories about Bateman that invariably involve the mangling of his genitals, and McCarthy badly singing Kelis' "Milkshake" (twice)? (I'll also direct readers to this Gawker post that gets into "a huge problem with 'Identity Thief': The premise of so many of the film's jokes is that McCarthy is fat and isn't that hilarious?" She's better than this.)
The filmmakers pad this dreck out with an unearned late-film lurch into treacle and a fairly violent action subplot in which McCarthy is chased across the country by a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and two organized-crime enforcers (T.I., Genesis Rodriguez). Along the way, McCarthy absorbs levels of abuse that should turn her body into a crushed bag of marbles -- which would be fine as slapstick, except that the movie sometimes tries to play its action beats semi-straight for a second before pulling its punches.
It's lame, and I hope everyone involved has projects lined up that feel less like coasting, potential-squandering cash-grabs.
This potent little period drama from writer/director Sally Potter ("Orlando") is about many things -- rebellion, compromise, and the horrible inappropriate selfish things adults can do while using their "ideals" as an excuse. But most viscerally it's about Potter keeping her camera tightly trained on every tiny expression by Elle Fanning, who gives a subtly stunning performance as Ginger -- a teen put through belief-quaking emotional changes in dingy 1962 London.
Ginger and her bad-influence best pal Rosa (Alice Englert) are each rebelling against their unhappy mothers. One teen craves activist freedom, one craves domestic stability, and their intense closeness is tested during a time of intimate catastrophe and global near-catastrophe that has each of them flailing for a grown-up identity. It's quietly brutal stuff, beautifully acted by Fanning, Englert, Christina Hendricks and a word-twisting Alessandro Nivola. _____
PIFF's biggest crowd-pleaser will likely be this hugely entertaining comedy-drama -- adapted from Tony Briggs' play and loosely based on the true story of Briggs' Aboriginal relatives (fictionalized here by Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) who form a soul-singing girl group and leave behind racist 1960s Australia to perform for American troops in Vietnam.
The movie unfolds in pretty much the exact uplifting manner you'd expect, but its real pleasures lie in its terrific '60s pop-soul soundtrack and especially in its frequently funny performances. Chris O'Dowd ("Bridesmaids," "The IT Crowd") is a cannonade of self-deprecating zingers as the group's drunken manager, and his bickering chemistry with the group's two-fisted eldest sibling (Mailman) is such that I can happily imagine a future in which Mailman gets to kill it in many more comedies. When "The Sapphires" gets a wider release later this year, I'll be shocked if it isn't a fairly huge art-house hit. _____
The zombie rom-com "Warm Bodies" is a bit like its lead character -- the movie takes a little while to find its voice. Once it does, though, it turns out to be a surprisingly sweet and well-acted (if slight and unsubtle) riff on "Romeo & Juliet," in which Romeo just happens to be an undead kid in a hoodie with an evolving taste for vinyl records and brains.
The film -- written and directed by Jonathan Levine ("The Wackness," "50/50") from an apparently quite-good novel by Isaac Marion -- opens on our hero, "R" (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie with a weirdly articulate inner life.
R wanders around in a zombie-occupied airport, frets in voiceover about his inability to connect and taste for human flesh, and grunts one-word pleasantries at the airport bar with his only pal (played with far more conviction than you'd expect by Rob Corddry).
While out foraging for human snacks, R runs into Julie (Teresa Palmer), daughter of the leader (John Malkovich) of a walled city of human survivors. Having just eaten Julie's boyfriend's brains and thus uploaded the boyfriend's memories, R can't bring himself to kill Julie. Instead, he drags her to his airport lair and attempts to woo her, mostly with his LP collection and yearning stares. Lucky for him, Julie apparently has a taste for guys on the absolute extreme end of the emo-and-inarticulate spectrum. The relationship changes him in surprising ways.
Levine and Hoult pull off a neat acting trick here, starting with R's near-silence and gaping hungry gawks and slowly adding words, expressions and speed to the character. The movie wakes up with him. The first half is a bit frustrating in that it can't seem to decide if it's going to fully embrace "Zombieland"-style farce or take a serious stab at the relationship between these two kids (who resemble Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart more than a little). Once the story commits to the romance, it hits a nice B-movie young-adult groove.
I don't want to oversell "Warm Bodies" -- this is, ultimately, a movie in which Julie bonds with R by making him try on sunglasses during a music montage (which is later followed by another music montage in which she puts makeup on him so he'll pass for human). But it's got a big heart and high spirits on a low budget and actors who refuse to phone it in. ______
(97 min., rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language)Grade: B-minus