Movie reviews: Get Low, Life During Wartime 

Also: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno and more

Thursday, Jul 29 2010

Page 2 of 3

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS In Steve Carell's first few episodes of the American version of The Office, the series hewed closely to the template created by the series' British mastermind, Ricky Gervais. But in the United States, audiences didn't take to so bleak a comic vision, and soon, the tone of the series evolved from harsh satire to affectionate, gentle comedy. Ratings success ensued. That's a lesson well learned by the filmmakers behind Carell's new movie, Dinner for Schmucks, an American reworking of the 1998 French comedy Le Dîner de Cons. Francis Veber's original was fundamentally on the side of the idiots. Not so Dinner for Schmucks, directed by Jay Roach, which takes the snobbish, cruel editor of the original and turns him into Paul Rudd's Tim, the nicest young man you're ever likely to meet. Meanwhile, bowl-cut, Windbreaker-wearing Barry (Carell) is not just an unctuous bumbler but is, in fact, borderline mentally disabled. That is the only conclusion I can reach after watching credulous Barry gleefully smash bottles of wine against the walls of Tim's apartment. Dinner for Schmucks is funny, sure. How can it not be, with good comic actors like Carell and Rudd — plus Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Kristen Schaal and Ron Livingston? And rest assured, no American comedy is going to call itself Dinner for Schmucks without showing us the actual dinner for schmucks, which is, naturally, this movie's comic apogee. There's a blind fencer, and a ventriloquist who's married to a slutty dummy, and a guy who French-kisses his vulture. They're all idiots, or possibly mentally ill. Paramount Pictures and director Jay Roach would like to invite you to a dinner they're hosting, at which you are welcome to laugh at them. (Dan Kois) (Citywide)

THE DRY LAND The dry land that we actually see in The Dry Land is the Texas dirt that James (Ryan O'Nan) comes home to. Strictly speaking, James has returned alive, but his wary squint seems stuck on the Iraqi desert he has just left. Disoriented and selectively amnesiac, he can't pick up the cues to the past he left or reintegrate to small-town life, which director Ryan Piers Williams gets down convincingly with his Anglo-Tejano West Texas of spread-out, fragmented families. His wife (America Ferrera) notices her man isn't quite the same around the time she wakes up in a choke hold. As plot developments diligently refill James' cup of sorrow — who thinks a welcome-home job at a slaughterhouse is a good idea? — he skips town, trying to fill in blacked-out memories with a returned battle buddy (a road-worn Wilmer Valderrama) and by visiting an incapacitated friend at Walter Reed Hospital, a reunion scene that turns on a dime from tentative sentimentality to almost black-comic obscenity. Such really unexpected moments are outnumbered by programmatic ones, but The Dry Land does slip inside the inescapable, closed-circle logic of despair, and O'Nan's shy, precarious performance keeps you with him to the edge of the abyss. (Nick Pinkerton) (AMC Broadway, Sunset 5)

GO  GET LOW It's 1938, and Tennessee hermit Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), who has been in self-imposed exile for 40 years, decides to throw himself a funeral while he's still alive to hear the speeches. He enlists Frank Quinn (Bill Murray, wonderful), the nearby town's funeral director, to make plans and post ads inviting people from all over to attend. For this imperfect but rewarding film, screenwriters Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell, fictionalizing a true story, have given Felix a guilty secret that he's ready to unburden himself of, at long last, during the funeral. Despite a third-act stumble in which first-time director Aaron Schneider undercuts Duvall's wrenchingly confessional monologue with awkward staging and choppy editing, Get Low is a pleasure to watch. Sissy Spacek plays Mattie, Felix's old girlfriend, whose forgiveness he needs the most. Duvall and Spacek have three key scenes together, including one that finds Felix and Mattie walking together down a wooded road. Nothing much happens; they talk and laugh, and their bodies sway back and forth toward each other, like young lovers courting. After a time, he offers her his arm and she takes it, with a firm, happy clutch — two characters, two actors, at ease and in joy, delighting in each other's magic. (Chuck Wilson) (ArcLight Hollywood, Landmark)

click to enlarge Life During Wartime
  • Life During Wartime

Related Stories

HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT'S INFERNO Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno is a posthumous psychodrama that, according to film archivist and co-director Serge Bromberg, grew out of a chance encounter in a stalled elevator with Clouzot's widow. Bromberg persuaded her to give him access to a particular holy grail: the surviving 15 hours of rushes and test footage from French director Clouzot's abandoned would-be masterpiece, Inferno. Starring Serge Reggiani and Romy Schneider, Inferno was meant to portray jealousy as a form of mental illness, but the real head case was its director. Clouzot was unable to finish the movie; as both the survivors interviewed and the surviving footage makes clear, the attempt drove him half-mad. Inferno was an ambitious production. Clouzot prepared elaborately color-coded charts tracking his hero's paranoid state. There were three separate camera crews. Columbia Pictures provided an "unlimited budget," much of which was spent on visual experiments involving superimpositions, dappled light patterns, fun-house mirror distortions and color inversion meant to convey a deranged consciousness. But rather than communicating his protagonist's madness, Clouzot appears to be documenting his own. Who knows how these fantastic shots of Schneider lying naked in the path of an onrushing locomotive or covered with glitter and smoking a cigarette in reverse would have played in the finished film? Who cares? For all the irrationality that fueled Clouzot's project, it's reasonable to assume that the finished Inferno would never have been any better than this arrangement of its shards. (J. Hoberman)

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending