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Film Reviews: Rails & Ties, Jimmy Carter Man From Plains 

Wednesday, Oct 24 2007
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BELLA The People’s Choice Award winner at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival is already getting some buzz among Catholics and pro-lifers in the blogosphere who’ve pinned it as the crossover anti-abortion hit they’ve been waiting for. Sorry to break it to you guys, but... no. Director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde has so little control of tone or nuance that even the most tragic and serious moments here come off as melodramatic jokes. (During the screening I attended, nearly the entire theater burst out laughing at the violent death of a child.) The main character, Jose (Eduardo Verastegui), a Jesus-haired hottie with sad eyes and a sad secret weighing on his mind, works as a (preternaturally talented yet modest) chef in his brother’s New York restaurant. When a co-worker, the streetwise Nina (Tammy Blanchard), is fired for her chronic lateness (guess what: she’s actually pregnant), Jose takes her out for a day at the beach and tries to dissuade her from getting an abortion. Does she? If you can’t tell by now how this movie ends, I won’t spoil it, except to say that it manages to be utterly predictable without making any sense at all. (Burbank Town Center 8; South Bay Galleria 16; Sunset 5; Playhouse 7) (Julia Wallace)

BLACK IRISH Has there been an Irish family on the big screen that didn’t come complete with a failed, drunken father; a saintly, long-suffering mother; and a handful of children running the gamut from dutiful and idealistic to troubled and dangerous? Writer-director Brad Gann and his finely tuned cast try their best to eschew those ethnic clichés, but Black Irish is still too wrapped up in them to escape clean. Cole McKay (Michael Angarano), a sweet-natured Catholic teen torn between the seminary, girls and baseball, lives in working-class Boston with — wouldn’t you know it? — his withdrawn, alcoholic father (Brendan Gleeson), unhappy mother (Melissa Leo), bad-apple brother (Tom Guiry) and pregnant, unwed sister (Emily VanCamp). In his directorial debut, Gann (who wrote the Mark Wahlberg sports movie Invincible) creates some emotionally affecting scenes, but Black Irish can’t seem to go anywhere dramatically without brushing up against the hardscrabble nostalgia of Angela’s Ashes and In America, or the macho code of ethics that permeates Scorsese’s mob movies. (Adding to the general feeling of déjà vu, Angarano looks a lot like Shia LaBeouf, while Guiry apes Sean Penn when his character turns violent.) The movie is by no means terrible — it’s too sincere and thoughtful to be immediately dismissed. But it is terribly frustrating viewing: so much time and creative energy spent making a movie that, in one form or another, the audience has already seen. (Fairfax) (Tim Grierson)

THE COMEBACKS One of Dictionary.com’s definitions of “comeback” is “a clever or effective retort; rejoinder; riposte.” Perhaps, then, the moviegoing audience ought to file some sort of lawsuit, as The Comebacks displays nothing remotely clever or effective; rather, it will make you question whether in fact you ever found David Koechner funny in all those Will Ferrell comedies, since he generates exactly zero laughs as the loser coach of an underdog football team in this alleged satire of inspirational sports movies. Simply put, if you can’t do better than 1989’s Major League, don’t bother. Though this sophomore effort from director Tom Brady (of The Hot Chick, a masterpiece of sophistication in comparison) isn’t as obnoxiously awful as, say, Epic Movie, it’s simply not funny in the least. (If you’re going to parody such disasters as the mentally-handicapped-Cuba-Gooding film Radio, it might be prudent to generate more laughs than the unintentional ones delivered by the original.) Brady’s sole decent idea is the casting of Carl Weathers as an evil coach, but much like the narrative, it goes nowhere. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

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DAN IN REAL LIFE has this much going for it: It is not the worst Steve Carell film of 2007. That honor, of course, goes to Evan Almighty, which even the Lord walked out of during the second reel. Fact is, Dan isn’t really much of a film at all — it’s more like a montage of other movies, with Carell serving as the host of what could pass for a prime-time AFI special. One could fill this entire space with the titles of films from which writer-director Peter Hedges nicks his story, but for the sake of expediency, we’ll narrow it down to a desert-island handful: Home for the Holidays, The Family Stone, Sleepless in Seattle, What About Bob? and Hedges’ own excellent Thanksgiving-dinner-flavored Pieces of April. Then add to this cinematic stew your own cast — Carell as the widower with three young girls, Dane Cook as the brother, Juliette Binoche as the brother’s girlfriend, Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney as the parents, Emily Blunt as the blind date, and assorted other familiar faces posing as family members gathered in an idyllic oceanside spot — and the dots connect themselves. The charitable might view Dan as a sort of spiritual sequel to The 40-Year-Old Virgin: Dan’s the little man Andy might have become had his One True Love abandoned him with three children to whom he can’t connect, because every time he looks at them he sees the remnants of his former life. Or it could just be that the movie steals from that line in Virgin about Carell looking kinda like Luke Wilson, since here Carell is, after all, playing the Luke Wilson role from The Family Stone. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

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