Wednesday, September 19, 2012


As a fan of Stephen Chbosky's superb coming of age epistolary I was extremely nervous about the prospect of adapting it to film.  I knew upon reading it that Chbosky was a screenwriter and was actually surprised that it took so long to come to fruition.  I was glad that he had adapted the novel himself, but what made me nervous was the fact that he was also directing.  I worried that he might be too close to the material not to make an over indulgent film that would get bogged down by vanity and lose what made the book so special in the first place.

Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower uncannily captures the tone and nuance of the book in a way that is rare when converting material from one medium to another.  The experience of watching the film was almost eerily similar to what it felt like to read the book (which I have done multiple times).

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a gentle, sensitive teen with the innocent, yet haunted, eyes of someone forced to see very adult things at a young age.  He is just starting high school, and after recently losing his best friend he's hurting for new ones, cautiously trying to connect with new people and eschew his reputation as a 'freak'.  In Shop class he meets Patrick (an engaging Ezra Miller), a senior, who is somewhat of a class clown earning the moniker "Nothing" after a cheeky interaction with the teacher.  Patrick, not afraid of letting his own freak flag fly, isn't put off by Charlie's demeanor and introduces him to his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson), who Charlie instantly falls for.  The siblings take Charlie under their wing and he quickly becomes a  part of their close-nit group of friends.

Paul Rudd (always a welcome face) plays Bill, an English teacher that picks up on Charlie's potential and starts to give him more advanced books to read and report on outside of class, cultivating a special relationship with him.  At one point in the film Bill explains to Charlie that we "accept the love we think we deserve."  This theme runs through several of the relationships depicted in the film including Sam's relationship with her boyfriend and the complicated relationship his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) has with her boyfriend Ponytail Derek (Nicholas Braun).

Charlie's journey has its fun moments, like the group's performance at the Rocky Horror Picture Show sing-along and tripping on pot brownies, but there is also heartbreak and heartache, felt by, and caused by, Charlie himself.  Lerman couldn't have been more perfectly cast as the put-upon boy with the forlorn expression that just makes you want to hug him.  And in addition to strong turns by Miller and Watson, Mae Whitman (NBC's Parenthood) is wonderful as Mary Elizabeth, a bossy feminist that Charlie briefly dates.

The book and the film are set in the early 90's, but Chbosky purposely understated the period references instead opting to give the film a timeless quality like memories trapped in amber, which also matches the novel.  The result is a gem of a film capturing the murky journey of adolescence to adulthood in a way that will resonate with those going through it and those of us who survived it.

                                                                   9/10 Stars *********

Thursday, September 13, 2012


In God We Rust brings us Lewis Black live from the State Theater in Minneapolis.  Recorded last year, Black's grumpy old man schtick is well on display grumbling and shouting his way through funny bits about  malfunctioning cell phones, facebook and LSD trips.  While the material is good, it's not the most uproariously funny, but still worth seeing.  Black doesn't tell jokes so much as he tells stories about things that upset him and you knowingly laugh along.  His technique has a conversational quality that makes you feel like you're listening to your favorite uncle at Thanksgiving.  If you've seen his other specials, or his work as a correspondent on The Daily Show you know what to expect.  If not, then you'll just have to take my word for it.  It would ruin the impact to give any of the jokes away.  

The director's cut of the DVD has a couple of fun extras and outtakes as well.  There are some good exchanges with the audience that were edited out of the final cut and also outtakes from a photo shoot he did  in preparation of the release.


Kyle Cease's  I Highly Recommend This, skews younger and much more upbeat than Black.  If Black is a grumpy old man, then Cease is the opposite.  His comedy is positive, random and quirky.  His presentation is more observational and absurdist.  The set includes a CD of new material and a DVD of one of his Comedy Central specials and several web videos he made that were co-written and directed by his brother Kevin Cease.  The material on the DVD is the funnier of the two.  Edited for television, it's cleaner than the stuff on the CD, but it's also tighter and more concise.  On the audio only performance he is looser and takes more chances, but they don't always work.  When he drifts off into some of his absurdist tangents it's funny, but they admittedly don't really go anywhere.  However, the journey is still pretty fun.

Both, In God We Rust and I Highly Recommend This are available now on DVD.

7/10 Knee Slaps *******

Monday, September 10, 2012


In the clever opening sequence of Girl in Progress we meet Ansiedad (a plucky Cierra Ramirez), a precocious teen, at school doing a 3D power point presentation about someone who inspires her.  The subject, is her mother Grace (Eva Mendez), who we soon learn likes to hop from city to city and boyfriend to boyfriend with her daughter in tow, which is how they ended up in Seattle where Grace's new boyfriend is a married gynecologist (Matthew Modine).  However, this is not told in a montage as Ansiedad is doing her project.  This is the project.  Inevitably, her antics land her in the principals office, but this is only the first of many stunts she pulls throughout the movie.

Ansiedad, is fed up with her mother's irresponsibility and neglect so when she learns about coming-of-age stories in English class, she decides to create her own in real life, so once she's completed it she will be a woman.  And that's where the film gets really meta.

With help from bestie Tavita (Raini Rodriguez) she goes through the motions of a "good girl gone bad" and checks off each step along the way.  That is until she gets to the part where she has to dump her best friend for the cool kids and starts stealing.  Most of this is played for laughs, like when she goes to a convalescent home to find a "grandma" on death's door so she can experience a tragedy, but there are other moments that get real, albeit in an after school special kind of way, when she tries to get 'deflowered' by a bad boy.

Meanwhile Grace is working as a waitress in a crab shack, and as a housekeeper to her gynecologist boyfriend's family so she can afford her daughter's school tuition.  Her flaky ways are not only problematic in her relationship with her daughter but also at the crab shack, where her boss is so leery of trusting Grace, or any of her co-workers, with the restaurant that he actually holds a contest for who can be the most responsible.  So, while her daughter is trying to become an adult Grace is being treated like a child, only she doesn't pick up on either until much later.

The performances are good throughout, especially the child actors.  Patricia Arquette, who plays Ansiedad's English teacher and Eugenio Derbez who plays 'Mission Impossible', Grace's co-worker with a crush,  help ground the film.  The clever script manages to make the coming-of-age-story-within-a-story feel fresh and carefully straddles the line between Thirteen and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  

Girl in Progress is out on DVD and Blu-ray September 11.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


The dark comedy Bachelorette is aiming for Heathers meets Bridesmaids, and while it doesn't have the quotable script of the former, or the LOL factor of the latter, writer/director Leslye Headland's debut feature mostly succeeds.  High School frenemies Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Katie (Isla Fisher) and Gena (Lizzy Caplan) are all part amused, part horrified at the thought of being bridesmaids for their high school "friend" Becky (Rebel Wilson) who they have lovingly dubbed Pig Face.  Most of their animosity comes from the fact that she's the first one to get married (how dare she?), and they are all in various states of failure and arrested development.

As alpha-bitch Regan, Kirsten Dunst is right on target with her ability to be two-faced on a dime and make it believable.  One second she's appalled at the thought of Pig Face getting married in a gown that she's dreamed of herself and the next she's berating the wedding planner about peonies to make the bride happy.  As maid of honor it's her job to make sure things run smoothly and she receives little to no help from party girl Katie and irresponsible Gena, if anything they only make her job harder.  When the girls ruin the bridal gown the night before the wedding there is a mad rush to fix it in time for the big day initially, but soon they get sidetracked by boys and the dress quickly drops down their list of priorities.

Fisher manages to still be charming as the hot red-head more concerned with not sharing her coke and getting drunk than finding a husband or furthering her career.  When one of the groomsmen Joe (Kyle Bornheimer), takes a liking to her you almost understand why he chooses to ignore the fact that she's a total mess.  Caplan, as the slutty slacker Gena, shows vulnerability in her relationship with her ex, Clyde (Adam Scott).  What's unfortunate is that Becky appears to still be the doormat she was in high school when she took the heat for one of her friend's bulimia.  Even more unfortunate that Wilson doesn't get a chance to shine like she did so brilliantly in Bridesmaids and the upcoming Pitch Perfect.

James Marsden, who is normally the nice guy in romantic comedies, goes edgy as a first rate a-hole Clyde who tries to bed caustic Regan.  He's not necessarily into her specifically, but of his available options, the other being a vomiting Katie, she's the better bet.  Although, in the end to him it doesn't really matter.  And should it? Would either of them be considered wife material? Doubtful.  While watching them trip and fall over their ineptitude and insecurity is entertaining, when Fisher's character wonders aloud if they'll all be okay, you kind of feel like they probably won't and almost feel sorry for the bitches.

Bachelorette is available On Demand for download on Google Play and iTunes.
In theaters September 7.