Monday, January 12, 2009


I had read lots of good stuff about the super low-budget indie rom-com IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS (****) and I was not disappointed. Here’s a film that reminds you that it’s not about how much money you have to tell your story, but rather, how you execute your story. After a hilarious and sexually-awkward opening that sort of has to be seen to be believed, IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS sets down the path laid out before it by BEFORE SUNRISE and tells an extremely winning tale of modern romantic hook-ups. Written and directed by Alex Holdridge, the film stars Scoot McNairy as Jacob, a lonely wannabe writer living a miserable romantic life in Los Angeles. Struggling to get his career going and still reeling from a bad break-up, Jacob wastes away his days taking bong rips and doing, well, nothing productive. Spurred on by his amusing roommate Jacob (Brian McGuire), Jacob posts a personal ad on Craigslist, looking for a date for New Year’s Eve. Not long after posting his ad, his phone rings, and an alluring voice is on the other line. The female voice tells him to meet her at a local coffee shop so that she can determine if she likes him; she says that she’ll know within a matter of minutes if she likes him. Jacob does as he’s told, and he meets Vivian (Sara Simmonds), a cute, spunky, and just-a-tad-crazy blonde chick, and the two of them embark on a roughly hour-long walk of Los Angeles, getting to know each other in the process. The strength of IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS lies in its honest dialogue, natural performances, and the unforced sexiness of the relationship between Jacob and Vivian. And, in what amounts to a cinematic first, we get to see two people who wake up in the morning and realize – surprise surprise! – that they have terrible morning breath, and fix the situation by popping some gum. Before they start to kiss each other. I mean, how many times have we seen actors in scenes where they have presumably just woken up from sleeping and then turn to their significant other and just go at it, regardless of how foul and rank their morning breath might be? This is just a small thing. But that’s the kick of IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS – it’s a film that’s made up of a lot of small things which leads to a bigger thing – emotional and situational honesty. There is a realistic raunchiness to the film that I appreciated, and the performances, especially those by McNairy and Simmonds, are terrific. This is one of the best independent features from 2008.
My parents recommended Paul Weiland’s delightful “true-ish story” SIXTY-SIX (***1/2) after they recently saw it and I am thankful that they alerted me to this films existence. This is the story of Bernie Reubens (a charming Gregg Sulkin), a kid about to have his Bar mitzvah but who is afraid that the party won’t be all that it can be because of the fact that England might be playing in the World Cup Finals on the same day as his ceremony. The awesome British character actor Eddie Marsan, who had a fantastic year with his solid work in this film as well has his great work in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY and a quick but memorable appearance in HANCOCK, plays Manny, Bernie’s father, who is struggling with family financial problems and trying to break the news to his son that his Bar mitzvah won’t be as lavish as his older brother’s was. Bernie, not a fan of football (or soccer as we Americans call it), is all about his big-day with the Torah; he’s arranging seating charts, making invitations, and trying to figure out the menu. But when England starts to surprisingly win a few matches and then make it into the finals, everything is put to the test for Bernie and his family. Who will show up for the ceremony and the party? Will England win the game? What will happen with Manny and his finances? The film, which is a tad predictable and a little overly sentimental, earns the right to be both of those things through the sincere performances and the Weiland’s believable dialogue Marsan is so good as Manny and Sulkin is so effective as Bernie that you end up truly rooting for them to get exactly what they want. Helena Bonham Carter appears as Bernie’s mother, and as always, she’s a welcome addition to the cast. This is a light, breezy comedy with a few moments of drama thrown into the mix. It’s a lot of fun.

HAMLET 2 (***) is an off-the-wall showcase for its mega-talented star Steve Coogan, who most American audiences will recognize from his bit-part in this year’s TROPIC THUNDER. Co-written by SOUTH PARK alum Pam Brady and co-written and directed by Andrew Fleming (DICK, THE CRAFT), this is a gleefully dirty comedy that is the very definition of un-PC. Coogan is Dana Marschz, a failed actor who has retreated to Tucson and gets by on his meager salary as a high-school drama teacher. Marschz, who thinks he’s a better actor than he really is, is surprised one day to find that enrollment in his class as tripled due to other electives being cancelled. He inherits a rag-tag group of kids (mostly Latino) and after learning that the drama department is about to scrapped due to budget cuts, he devises an outrageously offensive sequel to HAMLET, which includes an asininely funny musical bit entitled “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.” Parents and school officials are outraged, but that doesn’t stop Marschz from putting on his show. The film is hit and miss all throughout; that’s normally the deal when you’re dishing out a joke a second. Brady and Fleming take shots at the public school system in America and liberally assault pretty much every ethnic and religious group. And while most of it’s funny, some of it is stale. But it’s mostly saved by the rambunctious comic energy of Coogan, who could definitely become a big star in America if he plays his cards right. Before you check out HAMLET 2, I’d advise that your rent the criminally underrated 2005 comedy TRISTAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY, which also features Coogan, and is much, much better. Still, for an undemanding rental, HAMLET 2 will do just fine.

THE WACKNESS (**1/2) was, to use a term straight out of the vocabulary of the film’s lead character, a’ight. It was a’ight, yo! Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, THE WACKNESS is one of the first films to take the 1990’s and use them for the basis of a true “period” picture. Lots of shots of 90’s apparel, technology, and automobiles. Josh Peck is Luke Shapiro, a high-school pot head (and dealer) who trades weed for therapy sessions with his bong-ripping shrink Dr. Squires (a having-fun Ben Kingsley). The two of them are immature clowns, looking to get laid in NYC, except one of them is going through a mid-life crisis, and the other is still a virgin. The film is mostly entertaining but ultimately silly, and the whigger-lingo employed by Shapiro is, at first funny, and then fairly annoying. I know that’s his character, but it just sort of grates a bit on the nerves. Still, it’s not a terrible movie; it’s got some funny lines, a handful of good scenes, and the cute Olivia Thirlby from JUNO and SNOW ANGLES plays, well, the same character she played in those two films. There are a few steamy sex scenes, lots of pot use, a decent hip-hop soundtrack, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. I wouldn’t be surprised if Levine follows up THE WACKNESS with something better.

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