Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
Touching, heartfelt, irresistible; John Carney´s Once is anything but a traditional musical but ultimately achieves the same effect as the best in the genre. And make no mistake, this is a musical: throughout the film are music numbers (entirely written and performed by the two stars) that are realistically integrated into the story; characters don´t randomly break out into song-and-dance, but perform to make a living, as a way of life – the pretension of a typical musical removed, one can enjoy the excellent soundtrack without being removed from the story. Impressive direction, handheld camerawork, and natural acting combine to produce a realistic musical unlike any other: not since The Umbrellas of Cherbourg have the boundaries of the genre been broken so effectively.
Glen Hansard (of the Irish band The Frames) stars as an aspiring musician who sings on the streets of Dublin when he´s not fixing vacuum cleaners in his father´s repair shop. Markéta Irglová plays a Czech immigrant who works in a piano shop by day (and plays them when she gets the chance), and takes care of her mother and daughter by night. Simplistic to a fault, the film doesn´t even give these characters names – Carney has his eye on conveying emotions, the usual small details deemed unnecessary. Girl and Guy (as they´re credited) meet by chance on the Dublin streets, as she enjoys his music and happens to have a vacuum in need of repair. Girl helps Guy cut a demo, and the two begin to quietly fall in love, even though they both have attachments elsewhere: Guy´s girlfriend recently left him and moved to London (where he intends to go to promote his demo), while Girl left her husband in the Czech Republic to seek a better life for herself and her daughter in Ireland. Minor knowledge of Czech will enhance the experience – especially during one moving scene. A touching love story, an excellent musical, and a testament to what can be achieved in film on a miniscule budget. Nothing short of magical.
Absurdly profane teen comedy makes American Pie look tame by comparison; no, there´s no nudity or pie fucking, just dialogue so vulgar that it reaches a near-poetic level. Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) – autobiographically named after co-writers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg – are semi-outcasts who have been invited to a party at the hot girl´s house on the last night of their last year of high school; their job of getting booze for said party proves to be a difficult one, however, and misadventures along the way make up the bulk of the film. Tagging along with them is outcast-among-outcasts Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose fake ID reads “McLovin” (25, from Hawaii). Mintz-Plasse, a real-life high-schooler discovered at an open casting call, steals the show throughout, oozing an uncomfortable awkwardness that a professional actor would be hard-pressed to duplicate. Raunchy to the extreme, but like just like producer Judd Apatow´s two previous films – The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up – film ultimately scores because of it´s heart; despite all the gags, these are real characters, with real emotions – the pain of being unpopular has rarely been presented so effectively. At two hours, film does feel a bit long; lengthy scenes with cops played by Rogan and Bill Hader tend to drag the midsection down, though both actors seem to be having a lot of fun. The incredibly explicit rapport between Hill and Cera is truly something to behold; this is the His Girl Friday of profanity-laced teen comedies.
A mawkish adaptation of the Charles Baxter novel, Robert Benton´s Feast of Love feels insincere throughout despite a likable cast and efficient direction. Morgan Freeman stars as Harry Stevenson, professor-on-leave who has recently lost his son, and now observes the lives and loves of those around him: in particular, coffee shop owner Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear), whose wife (Selma Blair) has just left him for a woman, and now moves in next door to Harry with bad girl real estate agent Diana (Radha Mitchell). There´s also young love between Bradley´s employees Oscar (Toby Hemmingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davalos), who sticks with Toby despite his abusive father (Fred Ward) and a prophetic warning from a psychic. Well-meaning film intends to be an exploration of the strange nature of love, but all-too-blatant set-ups and ill-defined characters result in an entirely shallow experience. There´s also plenty of female nudity, which doesn´t do the otherwise tame film any favors, but helps to pass the time. Material is strictly Lifetime Movie of the Week; taken on that level, though, it mostly succeeds.
Dull, plodding Harry Potter wannabe is well cast and nicely produced but painfully slow and unimaginative. The Stanton´s are an American family living in England; youngest son Will (Alexander Ludwig) begins to experience some strange occurrences after his fourteenth birthday, and his life will change forever after he learns that he is a Seeker, and he must combat the forces of Dark alongside the Old Ones (yeah, that´s what they´re called; Ian McShane leads the pack), and find the Signs before the Dark Rider (Christopher Eccleston) or else the world will plunge into darkness. Or some such nonsense. And it is nonsense, purportedly based on the popular 60´s & 70´s five-book series by Susan Cooper, but really just an amalgamation of the Harry Potter, Matrix, and Lord of the Rings series of films. This one, however, completely lacks the conviction of the aforementioned, failing to bring us in to its fantasy world or convince us of any of the ever-prevalent mumbo-jumbo. Talented British thesps do what they can with the material (Eccleston is sometimes engaging as the Dark Rider and his bumbling doctor alter-ego) but Ludwig is simply awful in the lead; he´s almost a clone of an early-90´s Zachery Ty Bryan, Tim Allen´s son on “Home Improvement”, and feels completely out of place here (nevermind that the character was British in the novels). Justifiably tanked at the US box office; wretched title didn´t help much.
Also opening: Darren Lynn Bousman’s Saw IV (Showtimes | IMDb ), the latest installment in the hit horror series. Film opens on Friday, October 26 (though there’s a midnight Thursday screening at Villages Cinemas Anděl, preceded by screenings of the first three films), as audiences in the Czech Republic get the film on the same day as those in the US.