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Man, I really thought I had already written this one up.  If you missed it, The Grand is a poker mockumentary released earlier this year.  It boasts a stellar cast (David Cross, Judy Greer, Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, Gabe Kaplan, Richard Kind, Michael McKean, Chris Parnell, Ray Romano and Werner Herzog, to name most of the leads) and was co-written and directed by Zak Penn (with Matt Bierman getting the other credit on the screenplay).

Appreciation of the movie may depend on your thoughts on poker (love it) and mockumentaries (generally love them), but I quite enjoyed it.  As with any mockumentary, the plot is minimal and some of the jokes fall flat.  But generally speaking, the jokes hit and the movie briskly moves from scene to scene.  The main characters poke fun at some of the broad poker stereotypes, so a modicum of poker background helps.  The movie is chock-full of cameos, Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, and Phil Laak have funny scenes.  And Phil Gordon is hilarious, reprising his role as a commentator.  And I have to single out Werner Herzog, who is just sublime.  Though I certainly appreciated him more having seen Grizzly Man.  And the poker action is minimal, but some of the best I’ve seen in a movie.

Four Stars

I’m about two months behind on these things, plus we’ll be getting to Oscar movies soon (we promise!), so I’m gonna plow through with some mini-thoughts.  And if you thought about a short joke there, I’m not amused.

I saw Brideshead Revisited with my brothers and my grandma.  We’re fairly certain everyone in the theater disliked this movie – except for grandma.  Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock came up with a script that’s horribly boring.  The worst may be the many false endings.  Just as you think you are freed from the shackles of the movie, boom, there’s twenty more minutes.  Or hours, it was sort of hard to tell.  Themes are treated with the deftness of a chainsaw, the characters are underdeveloped, and if I could remember any more of the movie, I’m sure I could find about which to complain.

There may have been some Oscar buzz generated around Emma Thompson, who was fine, but whose role was way too short and way too one-note to really be considered around Oscar time.  At least, that’s what I’d like to believe.

One Star

I knew I was going to enjoy Duets roughly ten minutes in.  We see the always-fantastic Paul Giamatti traveling for work, ending up in the wrong city, and coming home to a family who barely acknowledges his return.  Reaching his breaking point, he snaps, somehow finding his way to up at a karaoke bar in a hotel.  Not having heard of such a thing, he ends up on stage, and after a stumble on the first try, nails “Hello, It’s Me”.  A put-upon Paul Giamatti going crazy and belting out Todd Rundgren?  I don’t know how the producers of the movie got into my head, stole the idea, and went back in time, but bravo, good sirs, bravo.

Duets is a classic ensemble flick.  Paul Giamatti shares a storyline with Andre Braugher, where the former, as mentioned, has gone berserk, developing an obsession with karaoke, and the latter is a mysterious man on the lam, whose heart may or may not be in the right place.  A second storyline focuses on Maria Bello and Scott Speedman.  Bello is a hustler, using her body to get what she wants, and Speedman is your classic white knight character.  Also, I think he kinda looks like me, so that’s creepy.  The final storyline has Huey Lewis (!) as a professional karaoke hustler (!) finding out Gwenyth Paltrow is his daughter and doing his best to not accept it.  The stories all come together, naturally, at the Omaha karaoke finals ($5,000 grand prize).

Of course, the key to a movie about karaoke is the songs.  I believe Andre Braugher is the only member of the cast not to do his own singing.  His singing voice is performed by Arnold McCuller, who does a haunting version of Free Bird in the film.  Huey Lewis’ songs are obviously pretty rocking, and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by his acting (granting, of course, it would be hard to write a part more suited to him).  Maria Bello’s version of the sadly beautiful “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (link goes to a live Bonnie Raitt performance) was rather moving.  And Gwyneth Paltrow has the breathy Olivia Newton-John voice, which I like, but some might not.  Michael Buble shows up at the finals (not as MIchael Buble) to sing a song in the competition, for whatever that’s worth.

In John Byrum’s script, the Giamatti/Braugher storyline is the best, with nuanced, meaningful characters, and an interesting arc, that’s both dark and uplifting.  I haven’t seen most of the movies in the supporting actor race for movies released in 2000, but there’s a good shot I’d advocate Giamatti to get a nom here.  The other two were a bit more lacking.  Speedman and Bello’s characters are generally annoying and kind of cookie cutter.  I could see cutting their storyline, but more likely I’d give them a little more depth, and especially more definition, as now they can’t really be described as anything.  The third storyline was decent.  I thought Paltrow was great, and I would have love to see her character used a little bit more.  You might remember the Lewis/Paltrow duet “Crusin'” from the movie:

For those who find this stuff interesting, the movie was directed by Gwyneth’s dad Bruce.  He was college buddies with Richard Rudolph, who was music supervisor on the film and produced some of the tracks on the soundtrack.  He’s also the father of Maya Rudolph, who appears in the movie as the karaoke competition hostess in Omaha, and sings one song on the soundtrack.

Four Stars

Adam:

  • The Dark Knight
  • Pineapple Express
  • Iron Man
  • In Bruges
  • Wanted

John:

  • The Dark Knight
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • In Bruges
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Tell No One

Brian:

  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • WALL-E
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • Glass: Portrait in Twelve Parts

Jared:

  • WALL-E
  • Pineapple Express
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • The Dark Knight
  • Rambo

Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but it is still early in the year, plus a bunch of movies are hitting DVD in the near future.  Also, since I’m posting, I get the last word.  Don’t drink the juice about Tell No One like John did.  It really isn’t special.

The movie kinda freaked me a bit because Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is named “Sherry” and her brother is “Bobby”, just like my parents.  Except my parents aren’t siblings.

SherryBaby stars Gyllenhaal as a recovering junkie.  She’s just coming out of jail on probation, which means her brother and his wife have been raising Maggie’s little girl.  They’ve understandably become quite attached to the child and are reluctant to just release her into the arms of Gyllenhaal.  On the flip side, while in prison, Gyllenhaal used her child as a way to get clean, and is desperate to begin a new life with the girl.  So there’s the dilemma.  A relatively normal, loving, middle class family who have been almost the only family the girl knows.  And the birth mother, fighting to stay off drugs and with few marketable skills, who cares very deeply about her daughter, but in many ways hasn’t grown up.

Gyllenhaal’s performance generated much Oscar buzz during the 2006 season.  She was nominated for Golden Globe in the drama category, along with Penelope Cruz (Volver), Dame Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Kate Winslet (Little Children), and winner Helen Mirren (The Queen).  All four non-Maggie nominees received the Oscar nod, with Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) grabbing the fifth spot.  Gyllenhaal, in fact, has yet to receive an Oscar nomination.  And yeah, I probably would have slotted her above Penelope Cruz in this group, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t consider it the fifth-best performance of the year.

I appreciated Laurie Collyer’s bold and daring script, but felt it occasionally went off-track.  Gyllenhaal’s father issues, for example, may have been necessary to paint the character, but were handled haphazardly.  Indeed, the film, at times, struggled to build a consistent character.  As the film flits across a few different isolated, sketched-out events, Gyllenhaal’s life doesn’t quite feel defined enough to really understand her.  Still, Sherrybaby is a solid film, gripping at times, occasionally emotional.

Oh, and it goes without saying, but Danny Trejo is awesome.

Three Stars

September 2008
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