Truly Biting Commentary: Our Luis Suarez Countdown

It looks like poor Luis Suarez will have to keep up on FIFA action like the rest of us, what with his 9 match, 4 month ban from the sport after biting yet another opponent. If he misses the game, he can always catch it on the tube, but what if he misses biting people? What then?

Well, he and his predilections inspired this week’s countdown. Maybe it will help.

Jaws (1975)

An obvious inspiration to the man-hungry forward, Jaws is one of those films we’ve seen dozens and dozens of times, and yet, we cannot flip past it. If it’s on, it stays on. Although now, that face Quint makes as he’s straddling those monstrous mandibles makes us think of soccer.


Teeth (2007)

A film about being bitten when you are really not expecting it, Teeth may actually make Suarez’s victims feel a little better. There are worse times to feel chompers than during soccer action.


Cape Fear (1991)

In 1991, Martin Scorsese dusted off a chilling old Robert Mitchum movie and put a simmer under a modern version of the tale. And while every moment leading up to this scene brings chills to the viewer, the  moment Scorsese turns thriller to horror and unleashes Robert DeNiro’s unholiness occurs when Max Cady’s date suddenly recognizes the unfathomable danger she’s in as he takes a bite out of her face.

Top Gun (1986)

If there’s one moment in Top Gun that shines brighter and weirder than all the rest, it’s not the volleyball scene, not the “need for speed” chant, not even the barroom sing-a-long. Tony Scott’s ode to male bonding unfurls its freak flag the moment Ice Man bites the air at Mav.

Tyson (2008)

Documentarian James Toback gets Tyson to speak candidly about the little piece of cannibalism that managed to shock the hell out of all of us, Evander Holyfield in particular. The fact that he had any ability to surprise or horrify us after his rape conviction – another topic covered, although maybe not as honestly – is impressive, in its own tragic way.

Hate the Sport…Love the Movie


We Are the Best!

by George Wolf


“Say one good thing about my life.”

“You’re in the best band in the world!”

A nice line, made even nicer in We Are the Best! (Vi ar bast!), when it’s part of a conversation between two thirteen year-old girls with punk haircuts, feisty attitudes, and no musical training whatsoever.

Anarchy in the U.K.!

Actually, it’s Sweden in 1982, when Klara (Mira Grosin) and Bobo (Mira Brakhammar) are restless teens exasperated by the lameness of their parents, other kids at school, popular music and whatever else ya got.

One afternoon at a recreation center they hear a local band rehearsing, and complain that the music is too loud. When their objections are ignored, the girls decide to form their own band and get louder.

Bobo’s on the drums, with Klara on bass and vocals, and soon they are writing their first song, a defiant anthem to their gym teacher called “Hate the Sport.” So awesome.

Their aim is to perform the song at the school talent show, but the deadline to register has passed, so the pair watches the show from the bleachers. Their mocking attention to the performers turns more serious when the introverted Hedvig (Liv LeMoyme) displays wonderful talent on the classical guitar.

Can Klara and Bobo bring out Hedvig’s inner punk, and together launch a musical shitstorm of ferocious all-girl punk revolution?

Writer/director Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4-Ever, Mammoth) has adapted his wife Coco’s comic book into a joyous portrait of teenage rebellion.

In the early 80s, New Wave has become the hip genre, leaving Klara and Bobo as outcasts for their punk leanings. Moodysson, together with touching performances from his young cast, is able to craft a sweet, captivating microcosm of an utterly unique time in life.

Feelings of alienation, jealousy and confusion are illustrated but never overdone, as the band’s formation becomes a wonderful metaphor for finding where you belong, and finally being heard. The girls discover that getting together to bang on instruments and yell becomes a great way to do both.

The band never does get around to picking a name, which seems fitting. We Are the Best! delivers a universal message in exhilarating fashion.





Wet and Hot All Over Again

They Came Together

by Hope Madden

The non-threateningly attractive, amiable Paul Rudd is an easy guy to like. Maybe even to fall in love with…unless he’s a corporate drone working for the ultra-behemoth conglomerate that’s about to put your quirky, independent candy store out of business! Then he’s just a dreamy boy you could fall in love with but you won’t, damn it! You just won’t!

Director David Wain likes him, though. He likes him well enough to cast him as the lead in every single one of his films, including his latest, They Came Together.

For the provocatively titled newest effort, Wain collaborates with co-writer Michael Showalter, who helped him pen another Rudd vehicle, the cultish gem Wet Hot American Summer. Where that film lampooned summer camp films, the latest effort sends up New York City rom/coms.

Both films are endearingly silly, insightful, packed with genuine talent, and loaded with laughs. Rudd is joined this time around by reliably funny Amy Poehler as maybe the love of his life, if they can get past that candy store thing and a couple dozen other hurdles.

Wain is not just after the big, obvious genre clichés, either – though not one is safe. He’s equally adept at uncovering small, overlooked crutches of the romantic comedy and skewering those, as well. So what went so wrong?

Nothing feels fresh, for starters. So many films have poked fun at romantic comedy clichés that the satire is stale. The humor is broad when it needs to be, targeted at times, and often very funny, but utterly and immediately forgettable.

Just as problematic is that the 83 minute running time feels bloated. Jokes are repeated so incessantly that they lose potency, and Wain’s film has trouble mocking the tired and familiar without feeling a little spent itself. It plays like extended sketch comedy, some of which is spot-on, though too much of it is filler.

With laughs to be had, sight gags galore, priceless cameos, an enviable cast and a quick run time, it’s hardly the worst way to spend a little time in the air conditioning. You know, since Wet  Hot American Summer doesn’t stream on Netflix.







Obvious Child

by George Wolf


Obvious Child is at times funny, crude, poignant, sad and awkward- kinda like life. And through it all, it is a film that feels honest – so much so that it’s hard to believe the lead actor didn’t also write the screenplay.

Writer/director Gillian Robespierre expands her 2009 short film and again casts Jenny Slate as Donna, a twenty-something bookstore clerk who does standup comedy by night. After her boyfriend takes her to dumpsville, Donna rebounds by hooking up with preppy Max (Jake Lacy)…only to find herself knocked up by preppy Max.

To paint this film as the “abortion rom-com” is both understandable and unfair. While the comedic approach it takes to such a polarizing issue all but guarantees a controversial label, Obvious Child is far from single-minded.

Robespierre brings a refreshingly casual frankness to a collection of life snapshots, all echoing with authenticity. There’s no pretense or judgement, and only a hint of the self-absorption that often plagues similar dramadies (yes, Girls).

And the neurotic thread running through it all is the strange compulsion to unburden the soul for perfect strangers in a comedy club.

Slate (Kroll Show/Parks and Recreation/SNL) is letter-perfect as a woman whose brutally personal comedy routines seem to be her only outlet for confronting anything personal in her life. The situation with Max becomes her wake-up call.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Robespierre transforms a 23 minute short film into a nearly 90 minute feature without tacking on superfluous filler. It all works, from Donna’s relationship with her parents (Polly Draper, Richard Kind) to the support from her loyal best friend (Gaby Hoffman).

Obvious Child delights in exploring roads that are rarely traveled in romantic comedies – but don’t expect a parody. As Jimmy Buffett has often said about his song Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw), this is a love story…from a different point of view.






Countdown: Too soon? The Ten Best Films of 2014!


2014 is half over? What the? Yeah, we know you’ve just thawed out from winter, but we’re six months in, so time to count down the best films we’ve seen so far:


10. Edge of Tomorrow

Aliens meets Groundhog Day in the freshest way imaginable. Tom Cruise’s under seen summer thriller gives him a welcome, multi-faceted role, but Emily Blunt is the real draw. Casting Blunt is never a bad decision, but few could have expected her to turn in such an effective, no nonsense, badass performance. Humor, excellent FX and wise pacing helped to make Edge of Tomorrow the best summer popcorn muncher of the year.

9. Captain America: Winter Soldier

A witty, clever film that respects the past and keeps an eye on the complexities of modern life, Winter Soldier brings the surprisingly entertaining First Avenger very successfully into the present. Great action pieces, even better hand-to-hand combat, a heart and a brain – not to mention a pretty rockin’ cast – catapult Captain America: Winter Soldier into top spot for individual Avenger flicks.

8. How to Train Your Dragon 2

The original HTTYD remains one of the most impressive 3D films ever produced, and while this sequel to 2010’s fresh, fun dragon adventure may get a little darker, it loses none of the soaring, heart-pumping action or impressive visuals. Hiccup and Toothless are joyously together again, battling pirates and cementing the bond between man and beast.

7. Neighbors

Easily the best frat boy comedy since Animal HouseNeighbors crams its visually arresting 96 minute running time with as much deeply flawed human comedy as possible. Rose Byrne conquers as a fully developed piece of the comedy puzzle, in a film that gives every character the chance to develop and tell some dick jokes.

6. Big Bad Wolves

Not for the squeamish, this dark fairy tale of predator and prey boasts brilliant performances, nimble writing and disturbing bursts of humor. It’s a hypnotic nightmare that dares you to look away. Big Bad Wolves offers a bold and brilliantly realized effort.

5. Under the Skin

This hypnotic, low-key SciFi thriller – the latest from filmmaker to watch Jonathan Glazer – follows Scarlett Johansson around Glasgow in a van. Light on dialogue and void of exposition, Under the Skin demands your attention, but it delivers an enigmatic, breathtaking, utterly unique vision of an alien invasion.

4. The Lego Movie

The worlds’ coolest toy benefits from a film that obviously loves Legos. Propelled by an upbeat, big-hearted energy and saturated with witty, age-defying sight gags, this is one film that promises to entertain every member of the audience.

3. Locke

A masterpiece of utter simplicity, Locke tags along on a solo road trip, the film’s entirety showcasing just one actor (the incomparable Tom Hardy), alone in a car, handling three different crises on his mobile while driving toward his destiny. It may sound dull, and it certainly can be challenging, but it may just restore your faith in independent filmmaking.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson returns with a film just as nostalgic for old glamour as the filmmaker himself. Bursting with cameos of deadpan glory, showcasing the most impeccable set design you’ll perhaps ever see, and boasting a delightful yet melancholy tale of Europe between great wars, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a triumph.

1. Only Lovers Left Alive

The great Jim Jarmusch reminds us that vampires are, after all, quite grown up and cool. His casting helps. The great Tilda Swinton joins Tom Hiddleston (not too shabby himself) as Eve and Adam, vampires hanging around Detroit. Only Lovers Left Alive is a well thought out film, a unique twist on the old tale, filled with dry humor, exquisite visuals, and wonderful performances.


Not Max, But Plenty Mad


The Rover

by George Wolf


Make it 2 for 2 for Australia’s David Michod, and I’m not talking World Cup penalty kicks.

Four years ago, Michod served up Animal Kingdom, an utterly compelling feature-length debut as writer and director.

The Rover is his follow up, and much like its predecessor, it takes a measured approach to getting under your skin.

The setting is an Australian wasteland, ten years after a “collapse.” We assume it’s a financial one, as we see Eric (Guy Pearce) angrily tell a man selling gasoline that “it’s just doesn’t mean anything anymore!”

When three men, fleeing from some sort of bloody incident, wreck their car, they steal Eric’s, which will not do. Though he quickly gets their stalled car running again, Eric’s not interested in a straight-up trade. He wants his car back. Badly.

One of the fleeing men, Henry, has left something behind:  his “dim-witted” brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). When Rey crosses paths with Eric, one brother is soon forced to hunt the other across the barren, desolate miles.

Don’t let the quick cuts in the trailer fool you, the story often feels as empty as the strikingly- filmed landscape. But Michod’s deliberate pace slowly sets in your bones, fueled by the two lead performances.

Pearce is mesmerizing, sketching the intense edges of a mysterious traveler. Where was he going in the first place, and why is he so deadly accurate with that rifle? What’s so important about his car?

Pattinson slams the door on all those “Team Edward” jokes with a breakout performance. Reaching depths of nuance he’s never before displayed, Pattinson brings heartbreak to Rey’s conflicting allegiances without ever copping out to melodrama.

Michod also peppers the trip with indelible vignettes, as smaller, unique characters float in and out of the tale to fully portray a brutal, desperate world that feels shockingly possible.

In many ways, The Rover is a throwback to classic Westerns, with a nearly anonymous figure on a bloody, single- minded mission for revenge. You may scoff at the simplicity of the finale, but I’m betting you’ll find yourself thinking about it long afterward.






Think Seriously About Skipping This

Think Like a Man Too

by Hope Madden

The single most surprising thing about 2012’s Think Like a Man may have been that I did not hate it. The film identifies five potential couples, highlights relationship flaws, then advises the women on how to re-train and trap their men.


And yet, as the misguided, sexist, illogical “comedy” unfurled, I began to believe that Kevin Hart could perhaps save any bad film by virtue of his inexhaustible humor.

This theory has been put to the test, as it appears the poor man is destined never to get a script for anything other than a bad movie: Ride Along, About Last Night, Grudge Match – good Lord, Grudge Match!

So, while Hart proves his own talent time and again, he’s also proven that no one human man can possibly save every bad movie director Tim Story wants to make. Case in point: Think Like a Man Too.

We check back in on all the happy couples of the previous installment as they meet in Vegas for one duo’s nuptials. But first, they will divide on gender lines for bachelor/bachelorette parties.

Nothing says fresh like a bachelor party movie set in Vegas.

Actually, stale is an excellent word to describe this lifeless retread. Story regurgitates every overused image and idea from about a dozen movies and a lengthy Vegas ad campaign. Do you think there’s an ultra-luxurious suite? How about some glamorous poolside action? Gambling antics? Rain Man mentions?

Don’t tell me there are strippers?!!

Why, yes, you can expect drunken debauchery (though nothing too raunchy that it can’t be forgiven) that leads to a race to make the ceremony.

I swear to God, it wouldn’t have surprised me to find out there was a tiger in the bathroom.

You know what might have been interesting? An Omaha wedding.

Instead, we get more and more and excruciatingly more of the same, shoveled shamelessly at us in the hopes that Hart can somehow make it funny.

Well, he can’t. The man is not superhuman. And that means there’s nothing at all to distract you from everything that is wrong with this film – which is everything.





It’s a Jersey Ting!


Jersey Boys

by George Wolf

The end credits in Jersey Boys roll over a musical number that bursts suddenly with toe-tapping exuberance. While it’s a fine way to send an audience home smiling, it’s also an unfortunate reminder of one of the elements missing from the previous 130-odd minutes.

Director Clint Eastwood’s film version of the Tony award-winning tribute to the Four Seasons ends up caught in an awkward space between stage and screen. Either Eastwood had too much reverence for the source material, or too little concern for what differentiates successful projects on stage and on film.

Eastwood stocks the cast with stage veterans, starting at the top, with John Lloyd Young reprising his award-winning Broadway role as lead singer Frankie Vallli. Valli has one of the most unique voices in pop music history, and though Young can’t match it, he comes impressively close.

Still, the musical numbers are strangely lacking in punch. Though the songs are instantly recognizable, the performances are filmed with a detached, esoteric quality, lacking the period authenticity of Alison Anders’s Grace of My Heart or the joyous fun of Tom Hanks’s That Thing You Do.

Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice adapt their own musical book with a condensed version of the Rashomon-style storytelling utilized on the stage. Group members Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio and Valli still offer conflicting, first-person views on their shared history, but the melodramatic tone mutes any possible resonance.

Many of the performances seem equally forced, as Eastwood can’t get the theatre-trained actors to dial it down and realize they no longer need to emote for the folks in the back row.

Eastwood does make the effort to include his requisite nods to Catholicism, as well as cheesy in-jokes on actor Joe Pesci’s pivotal role in Four Seasons history, and the director’s own “spaghetti western” background.

Ultimately, the boy’s rise from petty criminals to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members deserves better. Jersey Boys keeps their story at arm’s length, never bringing any intimacy or magic to the screen adaptation. It may well leave you humming a few tunes, but that’s about as deep an impression as it makes.





An Invitation to Lose Yourself

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

by Hope Madden

Sam Fleischner intends to take you somewhere, and though you may have been there before, it was never like this.

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors shadows Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez), an autistic middle school student, on a day he decides to follow an interesting pair of shoes rather than going home after school. This is, in a nutshell, the entire story. Ricky ends up on the New York City subway, and no one else is aware. As he spends days on end circling the city underground, we’re treated to the character study of a character we can’t really hope to understand. And yet, almost magically, it works.

Though Fleischner has only one other directing credit, he’s logged some serious hours over the years as a cinematographer, a skill he puts to good use here. Rockaway Beach and NYC’s subway system provide not just backdrop, but become full characters in the film. Fleischner lenses the local flavors, color and sound in a way that is equal parts fascinating and terrifying, allowing us to experience them in just the way Ricky does.

Meanwhile, above ground, Ricky’s overworked, undocumented mother – played with an authentic mixture of relentlessness, stoicism and anger by Andrea Suarez Paz – searches helplessly.

A confluence of factors adds to the raising dread the film effectively develops, until you worry you’re trapped in a nightmare. It’s an absorbing hundred minutes or so, without a hint of hyperbole or a single false note – an honesty built mostly on Sandchez-Velez’s performance.

The actor, making his screen debut, offers none of the dramatic flair associated with recent onscreen depictions of autism, possibly because he carries an Asperger’s diagnosis himself. The subdued sorrow he brings to the performance is heartbreaking.

But you will need to be patient because Fleischner certainly is. Nothing is rushed, but everything matters: the newspapers littering the trains, the ads behind Ricky’s head, bumper stickers stuck randomly throughout the tunnels and trains. The film is asking us to lose ourselves the way Ricky has, but to notice things, too, just as he does.

It’s a rewarding and frightening experience. In fact, the quiet brilliance of Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is that it is so honestly observed that it feels universal.




It’s a Queue Three-fer! We’re Making Up Words!

It’s a DVD bounty, ladies and gentlemen, with a trio of recommendable titles coming out all at once. If you can’t find something to love this week, well, let’s be honest about it, your taste may be questionable.

First up, the utterly glorious Grand Budapest Hotel. Visually stunning, wickedly clever, a little mournful and, yes, quirky, Wes Anderson’s latest can’t be recommended highly enough.


Tired of Frozen? (Aren’t we all?!) Well, rejoice, because the  relentlessly clever and endlessly fun The Lego Movie cometh. A good-hearted energy and clear love of Legos (the world’s awesomest toy) fuel a film that’s guaranteed to entertain and amuse, whether you’re under or over 3 feet tall.


If you’re looking for something a little darker, David Gordon Green’s latest, Joe, is here to remind us all that Nicolas Cage can actually act. Forgot, didn’t you? It’s a coming of age film as brimming with poetry and brutality, with an outstanding cast surrounding Cage, who gives the bug-eyes and screaming a break in favor of a nicely nuanced, wounded performance.