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Movie Reviews: All About Steve, Loren Cass, Ink, Walt & El Grupo 

Also, Sandstorm, No Impact Man, Gamer and more

Thursday, Sep 10 2009
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GO  ALL ABOUT STEVE In this refreshingly quirky comedy, Sandra Bullock is Mary Horowitz, a Sacramento crossword–puzzle writer who is geeky and hyperactive and generally too much to bear. When her parents fix her up with a handsome cable-news cameraman named Steve (Bradley Cooper), Mary pounces but quickly scares him away with talk of “destiny.” Undeterred, she begins following Steve and a washed-up reporter (Thomas Haden Church) as they head across America, covering ratings-grabbers such as a baby with three legs and a mineshaft cave-in that has stranded a dozen hearing-impaired children. Writer Kim Barker (License to Wed) and first-time director Phil Traill aren’t afraid of big jokes (deaf kids down a well), but they also pay attention to the small details of character. As if to suggest that Mary finds solace in a nerd-friendlier time, her bedroom décor is strictly 1969-70, while her much-discussed go-go boots are a seeming nod to the goofy brainiac Barbra Streisand portrayed in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). Although Bullock initially struggles with a character she’s probably too old to play, she ultimately makes Mary funny and sympathetic without softening her innate weirdness. The actress also earns points for daring to co-produce a Hollywood comedy that isn’t about a wedding. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)   

ART & COPY Since his 1996 grunge-rock documentary Hype!, Doug Pray has become an even more adept assembler of polished images. And where else would that tendency lead but to the world of advertising? Most filmmakers moonlight in the field, but here, Pray trains his camera on the guys behind the ads — the ’60s boomer revolutionaries who advanced the field out of the Mad Men era. And so we learn of how those famous VW ads from Doyle Dane Bernbach came to be, about George Lois’ groundbreaking art design for Esquire, and the use of pop songs (like the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun”) by Hal Riney, later the voice of Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign. These guys, their work — it’s genius, at least to anyone not offended by art (the image) and copy (the words) designed to sell. Yet however stirring these vintage campaigns and their graying creators may be for ad junkies and nostalgists, Pray fails at analysis: His film is simply a tribute. Random statistics — kids see 20,000 TV ads per year; 30 seconds on American Idol costs $750,000 — mean nothing without context. And linking the ad biz to cave art (?!?) — well, that’s just idiotic. Everyone quoted here, and perhaps Pray himself, wants to be seen as an artist. But in this economy, those of us who pay for ordinary stuff may not be so inclined to worship this particular art form. (Sunset 5) (Brian Miller)

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT Of his empty, completely unnecessary remake of Fritz Lang’s 1956 thriller, writer-director-cinematographer-producer Peter Hyams explains in the press notes, “I wanted to make almost a classic film noir, except I wanted it with young people; I didn’t want it with grown-ups.” Parsed further, “almost a classic film noir” means an especially twisty episode of CSI; “young people” includes the shirtless gardener from Desperate Housewives and the ectomorphic doofus who shills for cell phones and Best Buy; “grown-ups” equals Michael Douglas collecting a paycheck. Set in Shreveport, Louisiana, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt finds ambitious TV reporter C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe), aided by his smart-aleck colleague (Joel David Moore), hatching a convoluted plan in which he implicates himself in a murder to prove that a slick D.A. vying for governor (Douglas) — whose assistant (Amber Tamblyn) is sleeping with C.J. — is manipulating evidence. Lang’s film, the last he made in the U.S., exposed the immorality of the death penalty; Hyams’ retread offers only more plot and longer, louder car chases. Though she’s the youngest of the principals, 26-year-old Tamblyn (as anyone who saw her incredible performance in 2006’s Stephanie Daley can attest) proves she is the only one who can act like an adult. (Citywide) (Melissa Anderson)

BIG FAN It takes considerable effort to make Darren Aronofsky seem like a model of restraint, but Robert Siegel pulls it off in Big Fan. Siegel’s screenplay for The Wrestler insisted on beating down Mickey Rourke at every turn, but Rourke’s performance and Aronofsky’s grounding direction fended off the almost comically over-the-top cavalcade of bad shit. In his debut as writer-director, Siegel grinds down on rather than grounds his protag. Paul (Patton Oswalt) is a parking-garage attendant whose only pleasure is his nightly AM sports-radio call, on which he valiantly defends the Giants against Philly fans. Paul lives in Staten Island with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz), a shrieking harridan. We quickly understand that Paul’s brother, Jeff (Gino Cafarelli), is no good because of his thick Guido accent, and that his wife (Serafina Fiore) is equally worthless because of her orange Real Housewives of New Jersey tan. Things go massively awry when, through a series of events that involve a Times Square strip club, Paul inadvertently gets his QB idol suspended. Mental anguish ensues. Flawed though it was, this year’s Observe and Report — another outsider black comedy — had the guts to present Seth Rogen’s sociopathic mall cop without excuse or rationalization; the laughs came from the gap between his scary void and the reality around him. Big Fan instead chooses to beat up its clueless center so that we’ll like him more, and then surround him with familiar stereotypes to make him look more authentic. (Nuart) (Vadim Rizov)

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