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It's the Catch-Up Episode! Herein, please find:
Best In Show | Almost Famous | Bring It On | Urbania | Croupier | Psycho Beach Party

"Who? What's this? I have a vague recollection of what Reviews On The Side is, but I just can't put my finger on it..."

Yes, it has been a long time since I last posted some reviews. So let me refresh your memory.

 

BEST IN SHOW

Waiting for Guffman. 'Member that one? That was one of those fake documentaries that hit the hammer on the head with the nail. Directed by Christopher Guest—yes, of SNL and Spinal Tap fame—Guffman was a hoot. The characters were a comedically perfect balance of exaggeration and realism, and the complete plausibility of the situation that contained them was one of the movie's points of success. If ever a town as hicky as Blaine, Missouri (my apologies to all hicks everywhere, including those raised in Arvada, Colorado) were to put on a musical extravaganza celebrating their sesquicentennial, chances are it would turn out something like the one in Guffman. I know, because I am a survivor of sesquicentennialism. I went to Boston University during their sesquicentennial celebrations, and California (the state, not the pastry) is having its sesquicentennial any day now.

Best in Show is also directed by Christopher Guest, with most of the same actors involved, including Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake, Larry Miller, and Christopher himself. This time, the gang skewers the dog show set. Vanity and ignorance, in combination, are the biggest sources of laughter in this one. I'd say the characters in Best in Show are more ridiculous in their exaggeration than those in Guffman. This makes them a little more cartoony and less, "Hey, that's just like that guy I knew in that one place..." The charicaturiness leads to some hilarious moments, especially in the first part of the movie where we are introduced to these oddballs through interviews. (Soup and snow peas will always trigger giggles in me from now on.) But these characters are less endearing than Guffman's, which makes the movie, in the end, less comedically solid. Big deal, though, because it's still funny. It would be wrong to mot mention the other great performances by Jennifer Coolidge (SOUP!), John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, and Jane Lynch.

Best in Show's laughs taper off once the dog show begins, but don't let that deter you from seeing the film. It still works, and you'll laugh harder than you did at Mission to Mars. Christopher Guest and his gang need to do more of these movies, because they really know what they're doing.

 

 

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ALMOST FAMOUS

By now, if you haven't heard how marveluos this movie is, you are either deaf or too self-absorbed to listen to those around you. My advice: LISTEN UP! Those great unwashed orbiting your regal person might just know something you don't! (My apologies to all regal persons everywhere, including those indigenous to Arvada, Colorado.)

Almost Famous, from director Cameron Crowe, is easy to watch, smooth-flowing, charming, innocent, glowingly grungy, and moving. It has a lot to say without saying it too loudly or obnoxiously. It's been a while since I've seen a movie that made me feel warm and comfortable inside. No, not in that I-just-wet-myself way. In a real, internally warm way. An I-just-swallowed-some-Sterno-and-a-Zippo! way. On-screen is Cameron's love for everything in his movie, from the rock almost-stars to the fans to the time period itself. If ever you can call a director deft of touch, it's Señor Crowe.

The actors, too, make this movie a success. Patrick Fugit is perfect as the young teen sent on his dream assignment. He's a true innocent, but not in a blurry-eyed, cutsey-pie way. Patrick is honest and emotional, and holds the film's center with a camouflaged solidity. And this as his first theatrical movie. Whew.

Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, and, of course, Philip Seymour Hoffman all give spot-on performances. What I like is how all these characters, even the assholes, display a vulnerability at one point or another, making them true people and not just some folks in some movie.

Go see Almost Famous in the movie theater. It deserves your money and your time.

 

 

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BRING IT ON

The only reason I'm bothering to mention this movie at all, considering how old it is in movie years, is because, God dammit, I liked it. Dress me in a Sno-Cone outfit, straddle me on a goose, and send me ridin', I had a lot of fun watching this nonsense. Why does it work? It's self-aware with wit. Now, self-aware movies can writhe and contort their way to unfortunate, tragic failure. Don't get me wrong. But when a movie balances self-awareness with snappy writing and a fun premise, it can work. And it works here. You can tell right from the opening cheer that this movie knows what it's doing. Thanks must be given to director Peyton Reed, writer Jessica Bendinger, and the sassy cast. (Ugh. Did I just use the word "sassy" in a review? "How gay!")

I was dragged to this film, figuratively if not literally, then came out showin' off my spirit fingers. What a surprise. And if you go see this or rent it one night after it comes out on DVD (VHS? Bah!), you better bring it.

 

 

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URBANIA

This is showing in, what, 1/2 a theater? It's one of those tiny, tiny movies that you may never see ever. But I mention it because it deserves notice. This movie constantly threatens, by its dark subject matter, gritty execution, and bent wit, to be labeled Film School Chum. Not "buddy" chum but "shredded animal flesh" chum. Yes, when small movies attempt to explore dark and dramatic themes, they often turn out looking like a bucket of chum. They don't look good, smell worse... in fact, they're completely revolting. Film School Chum. Well, luckily, Urbania misses the bucket by mostly working.

The movie begins as a quirky homage to urban legends. Director Jon Shear and writer Daniel Reitz (adapting from his play) weave the legends into the story during the first part of the film, and that's kind of cute in a gimmicky way. After a spell, the movie settles into its dramatic Barcalounger to stay for the rest of the night. Don't worry. Like a considerate morose guest, it spits out some funny material now and then to keep you from becoming too depressed. The movie may be uneven in execution, but it holds together.

Dan Futterman is great as the main character, Charlie, who haunts the streets of NYC looking for either something or someone or both. You know Charlie--and Dan--knows what he's looking for, but we are only let in on the secret as the movie goes along. (By the end of the film, you will probably have guessed what its big secret is, but that's okay. It doesn't ruin the movie at all.) Without Dan, Urbania would be much less successful. For instance, if the movie had rested on Matt Keeslar's shoulders, forget it. Matt was not so hot here as Dan's former lover. (Matt's in Waiting for Guffman, too, BTW.) Swinging the needle back to GOOD, Alan Cumming shone, as he always does, in his small role as Charlie's depressed friend, Brett.

 

 

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CROUPIER

While we're on the subject of dark little movies, hoe about this neat little thriller from the UK? It's been playing in L.A. for at least 6 months, which is a miracle. The main character, Jack, played chillingly cool by Clive Owen, goes to work at a casino as a croupier (no relation to the film's title... I kid). I sort of like to think in my head that this guy was there when Lola ran into that casino and screamed her way to a DM10,000 roulette victory. Anyway, Jack takes the job to make some money since his writing career is not going anywhere, and he plans to get out once he's got cash and a good cache of characters in his head for his new book. Of course, things go poorly.

I saw this one so long ago now a lot of the details have evaporated from my head like steam off a freshly-baked Shrinky Dink. But this is one of those movies you don't want to go into knowing much about, because it's such a fun surprise. Some of the movie is predictable, but mostly the lushly smoke-stained atmosphere works a dimly-lit magic. It's kind of how Urbania would be if there were some more expertise behind it.

In poking around the IMDb, I noticed Croupier was directed by Mike Hodges, who directed the original Get Carter in 1971. Just thought you'd like to know that.

If this is not still playing in a shoebox near you, rent it on video. If it's available. And it should be.

 

 

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GLADIATOR

A sweeping spectacle! A moving drama! A forceful homage! Oh. Wait. I reviewed this months ago...

 

 

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PSYCHO BEACH PARTY

Well, I saw this play in Boston four score and seven years ago, and it was fun. Light, fluffy, cheeky, and silly. Like a Fraggle. This movie version, adapted by writer Charles Busch from his play (like Urbania!), is a little more grand in scope and execution, but director Robert Lee King (not related to Billie Jean King by any stretch of the imagination) needs a little work on his skills. As discussed by Matthew Beck in his fine article "Crazy Shoreline Shindig: Sand, Sun, Surf, and Sickness: How Psycho Beach Party the Movie Differs from Psycho Beach Party the Play and Why Anyone Should Care: An Artistic and Medical Discussion," strange directorial choices were made. It is "clumsily directed."

In addition, some of the acting is mediocre, some is bad. The good performances are by Lauren Ambrose (as Chicklet), Charles Busch (as the lady police captain) and Beth Broderick (as Chicklet's mom). The cinematography is questionable in places. And whereas the play's heroine was always traditionally played buy a guy, here it's played by a girl. Next thing you know, actorn in Hamlet will be running around rehearsals carelessly saying "Hamlet" instead of "The Scottish Play." Well, Psycho Beach Party is still fun. It's loopy and ridiculous. And Charles' Captain Monica Stark is a crack-up.

For your reference, Matt Keeslar is in this movie, too. He is okay.

 

I think that's everything, chums. As you can see, I haven't really seen many movies since my last reviews went out, oh, what was it, August? Yikes. This was brief and lacked much information, but I know all you really care about is whether I liked the movie or not. I hope I could impart at least that much information to you today.

One last thing: Don't forget to not vote for George W. Bush!

--Steve
 

10/13/00

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©2000 Steven Lekowicz except
Best In Show photo © Castle Rock Entertainment
Almost Famous photo © DreamWorks LLC
Bring It On photo © Universal Studios
Urbania photo © Commotion Pictures and Daly/Harris Productions
Croupier photo © Shooting Gallery, Inc.
Psycho Beach Party photo © Psycho Investments LLC