Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"The Last Song" is Seriously Off-Key

"The Last Song" has several distinctions. It's the first novel author Nicholas Sparks wrote specifically to be adapted into a movie, it's Miley Cyrus' first "mature" role (let's try not to take that to the dirty place, shall we), and it's one of the first films in contention for the worst of 2010.
Cyrus stars as Ronnie Miller, a piano prodigy who's rejected her talents following the painful divorce of her mother and father (Kelly Preston and Greg Kinnear). Sent with her brother to reconnect with their father over the summer in a small Southern beach town, she meets and falls for the local volleyball god (distractingly beautiful Liam Hemsworth).

The film, penned by king of the weepy romance Sparks, was developed and written specifically for Cyrus as a vehicle to introduce her to older audiences, and, since it is Sparks, you know someone's going to die, and you find yourself praying it'll be Cryus. Think of it as a reverse "Terms of Endearment" with dashes of every teen romance you've ever seen, all whipped through the Sparks blender and spewed out on the other side.

Cyrus, sporting a nose ring and striving for sullen and petulant, is a disaster, incapable of conveying any emotion besides anger, annoyance or vacancy during constant, dull tantrums. Considering how much she's made from Disney, you'd think she'd be able to afford a better on-set acting coach.

Newcomer Liam Hemsworth, looking like a young Paul Walker with Peter Gallagher's eyebrows glued to his forehead, is inhumanly pretty but equally blank as the stud with a heart of gold. P.S. We defy you not to laugh at one scene that's a blatant rip off of "Top Gun" without the Ice Man.
Though Greg Kinnear is one of the film's only saving graces, his time on screen is squandered as director Julie Anne Robinson races back to Cryus' forced emoting.

Manipulative, cheesy, and reeking of a too expensive Hallmark Movie of the Week, you hate yourself for the moments the film batters you into emotional submission, ripping tears from your eye ducts with the dirtiest of tactics. If Cyrus thinks this is the film that will win her a new adult following, she's got that Hannah Montana wig on too tight.

"The Last Song" opens March 31.

"How to Train Your Dragon" is Pure Magic

James Cameron can suck it, "How to Train Your Dragon" is the best use of 3D we've ever seen.

eautiful, well-imagined and unexpectedly touching, Dreamworks Animation has a new crown jewel to trump their previous best effort, "Shrek."

The film is set on the island of Berk, where daily combat with dragons is the way of life, until a young boy meets and befriends the enemy, hoping to turn his community from dragon-slayers into dragon lovers. Featuring some of the funniest rising comedic talent Hollywood has on tap, Jay Baruchel leads the charge as Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a Viking without the blood lust or battle prowess that made his father, Stoick the Vast, the chieftain of their tribe. Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler in a disarmingly compelling turn that's an amalgam of King Leonidas and Asterix from the French comics, sends his son to dragon training in an effort to turn the thoughtful young boy into a man, not realizing the friendship his child is developing with the most fearsome of all dragons, a Night Fury, who Hiccup dubs "Toothless."

Utterly engrossing, heart-warming and filled with wonder, the non-verbal communication between Hiccup and Toothless will have every child (and many adults) whining "I want a Night Fury too!" while the flying scenes send you soaring and wheeling, taking the audience on a ride felt in the pit of your stomach. Proving the power of both 3D and animation, the world directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois have created in completely immersive thanks to outstanding execution. Fantastic voice talent, great storytelling and stunning visuals would be enough to make "How to Train Your Dragon" a must see, but it goes beyond the expected, becoming a euphoric and transportive viewing experience that can best be described in one word: Magical.

"How to Train Your Dragon" opens March 26.

"Hot Tub Time Machine" is the Best Thing to Happen to 1986 Since "Alf"

Behold, the resplendent power of the hot tub. Skating a delicate line between liquor and Rohypnol as the greatest inhibition dropper of all time, the only thing better than a hot tub might be a "Hot Tub Time Machine."

Surprisingly funny and charming in its stupidity, "Hot Tub Time Machine" follows a group of best friends who have let their lives pass them by. Adam (John Cusack) is a recently-dumped insurance salesman, Lou (Rob Corddry) only has his Trans-Am and Motley Crue tapes to keep him warm, and Nick (Craig Robinson) has given up his dream of musical fame to work at the Beverly Hills Doggie Day Spa, 'Sup Dawg. But on a weekend trip to the ski resort that hosted their former 1986 glory days, the three friends and Adam's video game-obsessed nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), have a night of hot tubbin' and drinking that lands them two decades in the past with a chance to change their past and future.

A throwback to both the body-swapping and sex-fueled romps of the 80s, Cusack, who also serves as the film's producer, will give anyone who ever played Atari a thrill reviving the beloved trench coat-wearing, dorky misfit roles that launched his career. Robinson is hilarious as an overly emotional cuckolded husband and Duke shines as the film's voice of reason, while Corddry occasionally pushes his role past funny, into obnoxious and grating. And then, there's Crispin Glover. We don't want to ruin it for you but, suffice it to say, Glover is a highly undervalued comic genius whose casting and nostalgic currency are pitch perfect.

With a killer soundtrack, brilliant costume design and fantastic cast chemistry, it's a shame the film leans on gross out stunts and lame homophobic humor for one too many laughs. But, despite its shortcomings, you can't help but be won over by the film's raunchy, ridiculous humor and strong performances.

"Hot Tub Time Machine" opens March 26.

Miley's "Last Song"

“The Last Song” could easily be called The Swan Song because it marks the end of a major chapter in Miley Cyrus’ life and career. When the young superstar sweeps into the ballroom of Santa Monica’s Casa del Mar on a sunny, warm March day, you can’t help but notice the light glinting off the water and how reminiscent it is of the paparazzi flashbulbs that have followed the 17-year-old since she became one of the biggest stars on Disney’s rooster. With long brown extensions trailing to her waist, eyes rimmed with kohl liner and a lithe body encased in the teenage version of rockstar professionalism, it’s unmistakable that Cyrus is ready to grow up and move beyond her role as Hannah Montana.

In her new film, Cyrus plays Ronnie Miller, a piano prodigy who’s rejected her talents following the painful divorce of her mother and father (Kelly Preston and Greg Kinnear). Sent with her brother (the strikingly talented Bobby Coleman) to reconnect with their father over the summer in a small Southern beach town, she meets and falls for the local volleyball god (Liam Hemsworth, who is distractingly beautiful). The film, penned by king of the weepy romance, Nicholas Sparks, was developed and written specifically for Cyrus as a vehicle to introduce her to older audiences.

“Disney had a two movie [deal] with Miley,” Sparks explains. “Of course she was going to do ‘Hannah Montana’ for the one and she said she might want to do something like ‘A Walk to Remember.’” Approached by the studio, Sparks spent the next few months writing a novel expressly to be turned into a screenplay for Cyrus. “I spoke to Miley, got some input on some things that she wanted specifically and didn’t want specifically in the film,” he says.

Cyrus says those conversations with the writer were what made jumping into the project less daunting. She wanted Ronnie to be a character, but not one so removed from her that it was unrecognizable. “It made it easier to go into something new, a film that wasn’t based on Hannah Montana [and] wasn’t such a comfort zone, to make it a little more like me,” she says.

Though familiar in some ways, her love of music and close relationship with her family, for example, Ronnie is very different from both Cyrus and the character she’s best known for. Bitter, sullen and angry, the actress relished the chance to dig into a more dramatic role. “I got the drop the guard a little bit, got to throw all the fits I’ve wanted to in the past year,” she laughs. But she also had to learn to modulate those emotions which are so often unseen on the Disney Channel. “The biggest thing I learned [was] to go deeper,” she says.

When asked if this film could be a last song for Hannah Montana, Cyrus seems both wistful and eager. As the film arrives in theaters, the Disney Channel is airing the last episodes of season three and the cast is finishing production on season four, which will be the show’s final season.

“As a new chapter is beginning, my life for the last five years is ending,” Cyrus sighs. “It’s interesting to be leaving my security blanket behind but also it’s exciting. It’s been such a huge deal in so many kids’ lives [and] an amazing journey.”

Prodded further to whether there might be another Hannah Montana movie, if not another season of the show, Cyrus is resolute. “No!” she insists, shaking her head vigorously. “Hannah Montana [and] the wig is out. As soon as that last episode [is filmed], one [wig] will be in a museum and one will be burned or something because I can’t put it on again. It’s just too much.”

Like any teenager, Cyrus has reached the edge of the nest and is ready to tumble out and test her wings. “I’ve gone the last five years of Hannah Montana with everyone telling me what to do and now it’s kind of up to me,” she smiles. “I have to be careful to not lose the Miley Cyrus factor, I still want people to know who I am, I just want to extend my audience, continue to do what I love but give myself new challenges and not just be the same person over and over and over.”

The Last Song opens March 31st.

The Runaways Isn’t a Runaway Success

If Almost Famous had a director fresh out of film school, this is what might have happened.

"The Runaways" begins with a simple, static shot. A platform heel, heat rising off the concrete and then a dark red splash, a cherry bomb if you will, drops on the sidewalk. The source of the single crimson droplet? Blood. And where's it coming from? Between Dakota Fanning's young thighs. In case you were unsure, you are now pointedly aware that what you're about to embark on is a slightly ill-fated coming-of-age story.

Based on Cherie Currie's memoir, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, the film follows a young Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Currie (Dakota Fanning), during the founding, rise and fall of the first all-girl rock band, The Runaways. If you've seen any rock biopic, you know the clichés "The Runaways" will dole out; broken families, the allure of fame at all costs, Valhalla decadence at every turn, in-fighting, egos, ODs, and eventual implosion. What writer-director Floria Sigismondi attempts to do so things stay fresh is focus on the love and friendship between the two young girls. Obviously, by saying "attempts," we mean it's not a total success.

While Stewart and Fanning give admirable performances as sexually-charged, angst-ridden, fight-for-your-right-to-rock young women, Sigismondi is lost in her own lens. Best known for directing music videos, particularly Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People," her imagery is luxuriously drawn in shags and polyesters, alluringly capturing a mid-70s time capsule. But Sigismondi trades storytelling for art, making long stretches of the film feel like unedited music video footage where aesthetic takes priority over plot.

Thankfully, even Sigismondi can't drag down Michael Shannon, whose portrayal of the band's bombastic, hilariously tyrannical, manic Svengali of a manager makes the film worth the price of admission. With beautiful visuals, an excellent cast and an outstanding soundtrack, "The Runaways," much like the band it portrays, is filled with unrealized potential and is ultimately sabotaged by the person entrusted to captain the ship.

Kristen Stewart Loves Rock 'n' Roll and Joan Jett

Kristen Stewart may be known for playing Bella in "The Twilight Saga," but sitting down to speak with her, there's obviously a lot more rock star blood flowing through her veins than audiences might expect. It's an aura that landed her the role of Joan Jett in "The Runaways," the new film about the rise and fall of the groundbreaking 1970s all-girl rock group, and a heaping of praise from Jett herself, who is not only one of the film's producers, but was on set throughout filming.

Portraying a real life character is daunting enough. Doing it while the real person is watching you recreate one of the most formative, meaningful times in their life might be too intimidating for some actors to bear. But Stewart was thrilled to have Jett as a mentor and guide.

"The fact that Joan wanted to be a producer, be on set every day and was so open about a time that's so important to her; it definitely says something about the people that they hired to play the parts," Stewart says. "She easily could have said, 'Get someone else. I can't tell this girl what I need to tell her.'"

Stewart explains that both Jett and lead singer Cherie Currie were extremely forthcoming in divulging details about their past. "There are things that we needed to know that aren't in the movie; details, personal reflections about things. It was nice having them there. We can't know how everything happened and it would really be awful to just make it up and try to fill in the blanks when it can be real."

One of the greatest pieces of guidance Jett offered was regarding manager Kim Fowley (played brilliantly by Michael Shannon). "Kim is written really aggressive," Stewart continues. "Every time I sort of went, 'Wow, I would punch him in the face,' Joan would be like, 'No, you'd laugh at him. You love the guy. You aspire to be as crazy and freaky as him.' There's no way of knowing that without her."

"The Runaways" opens March 19.

Michael Shannon Runs Away with "The Runaways"

Michael Shannon is an actor's actor whose career has stretched from a bit part in "Groundhog Day" to the stages of the Steppenwolf Theater Company to his Oscar-nominated turn in "Revolutionary Road," where he yanked the spotlight right out from under Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

In "The Runaways," the new film about the groundbreaking all-girl 70s rock band whose founding members include Joan Jett (played by "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart) and Lita Ford, Shannon is at his scenery chomping finest in the role of Kim Fowley, the band's foulmouthed, manic manager. From his first moment on screen, Shannon straps the movie to his back and walks off with it.

At the film's recent press day, Shannon, in a tight hooded sweatshirt and jeans, looking more like a hipster than a movie star, looked almost crestfallen when his onscreen supremacy is mentioned.

"At the risk of sounding coy," he rumbled, "it's a little awkward to be honest. I have a lot of respect for the people I work with. I don't like to feel like the hard work they put into something isn't getting the credit it deserves. It's never my intention."

However modest he may be, Shannon is undeniably dynamic and captivating as a man who recently knighted himself "a psycho Svengali."

"I got about half of it," Shannon decrees. "[Kim's] an intricate human being; it's hard to pin him down. But I feel that way any time I see [actors playing real people.] Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great in "Capote" but he's not really like Truman Capote. I think I got enough of it that you got the story."

As for his young co-stars, Stewart and Dakota Fanning, as lead singer Cherie Currie, Shannon has nothing but the highest praise. "They're very fearless," he says proudly. "It's pretty incredible when you think of how young they are and what they've already accomplished. Kristen was totally submerged into it. It was very convincing."

"The Runaways" opens Friday March 19.

"Justified" Does Elmore Leonard Proud

For every Elmore Leonard adaptation which has soared ("Get Shorty," "Out of Sight"), there's one that sank like the Titanic ("Be Cool," "Karen Sisco"). FX's new series, "Justified," based on Leonard's character U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who was featured in two books and one short story, falls triumphantly in the former category, making this noir western one of the most promising new hours TV has to offer.

Timothy Olyphant stars as Givens, a Marshal whose particular brand of justice gets him reassigned to the hometown in rural Kentucky he loathes. While there are undeniable shades of his "Deadwood" character, Marshall Seth Bullock, Olyphant's Givens commands the screen with a seething swagger and quiet authority. Place your bets, kids, Olyphant is our early favorite for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe nod.

Each yin must have a yang and Givens finds his in Boyd Crowder, an old coal mining buddy. Played by Walter Goggins, formerly of another exceptional hour of television courtesy of FX, "The Shield," Crowder is the man Givens might have been if he'd gone Vader instead of Luke.

Speaking proudly of the show's dedication to uphold the excellence of Leonard's writing, Goggins explained the "WWED" (What Would Elmore Do?) bracelets show creator Graham Yost gave his writing staff became a sentiment that permeated the set. "I think [audiences] will really appreciate the humor, the writing and the stylistic kind of dialogue ongoing interpretation of Elmore Leonard…that kind of banter," Goggins says of the show which he describes as "the Coen Brothers meets 'The Shield.'"

If that doesn't inspire you to set your DVR, what will?

"Justified" premieres tonight, March 16, 10pm on FX.

Forage is Silver Lake's Newest Gem

Jason Kim knows good produce. Ten years into his culinary career, following stints at the Dining Room at Ritz Carlton in San Francisco and L.A.’s L’Orangerie and Lucques, he’s taken the knowledge he gained about farmer’s markets, seasonal produce and sustainability, a power-to-the-people attitude and his uncanny ability to roll with the punches packed in a constantly morphing menu and birthed Forage. Sunny and sleek, in a prime Silver Lake location (Kim took over the space previously occupied by craptastic Town and Country), Eastsiders are already twitterpated over the newly opened restaurant’s farm-to-table approach.

“My goal is to provide food like Lucques, Spago, Providence,” Kim, a sweetly reticent fellow, begins. “All that great produce, you can only get at these nice restaurants and you pay $50-$100 a meal. The state of organic, sustainable food is only for the elite still. I wanted to bridge that gap.”

With that in mid, instead of paying $100 to feast at Forage, guest checks are usually closer to $10 or $15 dollars. “You can and you should be eating like this every day,” Kim pronounces.

Insisting on serving only the freshest possible produce means the menu changes depending on what’s available to the kitchen staff, much of it gathered from local providers, some of whom happen to be neighbors with a fruit tree who stop by on Sunday from 3-5pm, the foraging hours.

“Our menu has changed non-stop,” Kim says proudly. “I didn’t expect it to change this much but since I started this foraging program where people are bringing me stuff, I have no choice. It’s been really great. We just get inspired on the spot and that night we’ll make a new dish.” A month and a half after opening, Kim says, “I’ve changed my soup ten times already.”

Not one to play favorites with produce, Kim admits he has particular affection for garlic and spring onions, but says there’s one ingredient he’d love to see a forager bring in and is quick to put out the APB.

“Ramps!” he crows. “If anybody has ramps, let me know. If you have them, I’ll use them as the entrée!”

3823 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Lunch- Tuesday-Sunday: 11am-3pm
Dinner- Tuesday-Saturday 5pm-9pm
Forage- Sunday: 3-5pm

"She's Out of My League" is an RBI for Jay Baruchel

Batter up! Another loveable schlub is looking for love with a hot blonde dream girl.

"She's Out of My League" isn't up to any new tricks. Long before anyone got "Knocked Up," Patrick Dempsey built an entire career based on films where he went after a girl seemingly far beyond his reach, but they fell in love anyway. Remember "Can't Buy Me Love"? Anthony Michael Hall's Geek bagged the hottest girl in school in "Sixteen Candles," and Nicholas Cage totally scored his "Valley Girl."

Now, Jay Baruchel has his moment in the sun as Kirk, a lovable loser working as a TSA officer, the millennium's equivalent of the postal worker, at the Pittsburgh airport when he meets and falls for a "hard 10," Molly (Alice Eve). Anyone with a Netflix account knows what happens next, but the pleasant surprise of "She's Out of My League" is that despite well traveled terrain, it's still a super fun ride.

From ewww to awww, "She's Out of My League" swings for the fences and succeeds. Sharply written and hilariously acted by the entire ensemble, the film deftly moves from the uproariously raunchy to sweetly sentimental without losing the audience. Thanks to standout performances by T.J. Miller, a blend of Napoleon Dynamite and Ryan Reynolds circa "Van Wilder," as Kirk's best bud Stainer, Nate Torrence as Devon, the married romantic who sees life through the prism of a Disney musical, and Krysten Ritter as Patty, Molly's belligerent best friend, as well as Baruchel's affable charm, the film is winningly sweet with moments of genuine hilarity.

Despite certain musical interludes that blast out at the audience feeling like someone left the TV on full blast during a car commercial and Eve's slightly flat performance as the vision of perfection, director Jim Field Smith and screenwriting team Sean Anders and John Morris have crafted a confection of disarmingly enjoyable vulgar fun with a soft side.
If Judd Apatow has taught us anything, it's that nice guys get all the booty. "She's Out of My League" makes you understand why.

"Our Family Wedding" is Nothing to Celebrate

Is there anything funnier than a soon-to-be-slaughtered goat getting hopped up on Viagra? Or the sight of two grown men constantly screaming at each other like five-year-olds on the playground? Or the idea of a marriage between two people, one African American, one Hispanic, doing anything other than setting off a firestorm of family drama? According to the makers of "Our Family Wedding," nope.

Starring America Ferrera, Lance Gross ("Tyler Perry's House of Payne"), Carlos Mencia, Regina King and, inexplicably, Forrest Whitaker, the film follows a newly engaged couple, Lucia (Ferrera) and Marcus (Gross), as they return to their childhood homes in Los Angeles to announce their engagement. What should be the happiest time of their lives turns into pure chaos at their equally headstrong, egotistical and bigoted fathers, Miguel and Brad (Mencia and Whitaker), go ballistically head to head. Let the hilarity ensue.

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa ("The Wood," "Brown Sugar") from a screenplay he co-wrote, stereotypes flow heavily from either side of the cultural divide as the young couple struggles to pull together a wedding in a matter of weeks. Lucia, tightly wound and meek, and Marcus, unyeildingly angelic, follow a poor man's plot of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," though, thankfully, not one as destitute as Ashton Kutcher's "Guess Who." Slapsticky and trite, the film's few bright spots come in the form of comedienne Anjelah Johnson as Lucia's sister and Regina King as Brad's long time lawyer and potential lover. At least there's one positive, "Our Family Wedding" is instantly forgettable.

Downtown's Mac & Cheeza is Comfort Food Brilliance

Take everything you first loved about Pinkberry (“I want kiwi, Fruity Pebbles and Mochi”), add LA’s Kogi-inspired love of waiting in line to grab food to-go, and toss in a recession-sparked indulgence in comfort food, and what do you have? Mac and Cheeza, the newest joint from the culinary masterminds behind Eagle Rock’s exceptional contemporary soul food mecca, Larkin’s.

Continuing their dastardly plan to induce cravings beyond measure or control, chef Larkin Mackey and co-owner Joshua McBride are giving Larkin’s BBQ Shrimp and Fried Chicken a run for its money as Los Angeles’ best reason to shamelessly lick your plate in public. Luckily, Mac and Cheeza is more about take-out and delivery, inviting guests to grab-and-go their Baby Mac, Momma Mac or Daddy Mac compositions, so no one will witness your shame unless you choose to eat at one of the spot’s few thin benches and tiny tables.

With special care for both vegans and the intolerants (gluten and dairy-free diets are well catered to), diners are invited to compose their cheesy opus. Starting with noodles, regular or rice, topped with a cheeza base, either cheese or soy, veggies such as collard greens, black olives, peas, jalapenos, green onions, mushrooms, tomatoes or spinach can be added, along with ground beef, BBQ chicken, hot links, tuna, bacon, ham, chorizo or veggie sausage. Then it’s all topped with either a cheese blend or spicy toasted walnuts and sent down a conveyor belt oven until it’s a bubbling cheesy cauldron that’s not only delicious, but made to order. Who needs a blue box when there’s this new downtown treasure?


Monday-Wednesday: 11 am to 11 pm
Thursday-Sunday: 11am-2am

Mac & Cheeza
223 W. 8th Street
L.A., CA 90014

Love is Hard But it Gets "Easier with Practice"

The first images of "Easier with Practice" paint a deceptive picture. Are those the cracked, dusty oils of Rubenesque shapes hanging in a museum? The ripple and wave of a Botticelli beauty? Nope. What at first appears to be snippets of classic artwork are actually the worn, scratched, dog-eared splendor of romance novel covers. First time writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has entrancing his audience with the minutia of erotica in all its bodice-ripping glory.
It's a tangled fan dance that Alvarez continues for the rest of the film; beguiling his audience with what seems to be simple and recognizable, until closer inspection.

"Easier with Practice," winner of the Grand Jury Prize at CineVegas in 2009, is an adaption of the autobiographical 2006 GQ article "What Are You Wearing?" by Davy Rothbart. Renamed Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty), the film begins with the writer on a road trip to promote his as-yet-unpublished series of short stories, accompanied by his tail-chasing younger brother, Sean (Kel O'Neill). What might be an uneventful tour of sparsely attended readings at bookstores and college campuses becomes life changing when crumpled, profoundly withdrawn Davy gets an anonymous phone call in his motel room one night and "meets" Nicole. Within seconds, they're having a conversation that usually costs $1.99 a minute and begins with a 976 prefix, but soon those phone calls become Davy's one true life line, his only connection to a world that seems to almost drown him. While it's a concept could have easily been a National Lampoon movie, the phone sex in the film is less about titillation than it is about the seeming impossibility of human connection as we witness the ultimate intimacy, masked in distance and detachment. The deeper their relationship, the more Davy retreats, his discomfort with real human connection and contact growing, along with a deep yearning for what Nicole offers.

While thoughtful writing and assured direction by Alvarez lay a solid groundwork, the film's true revelation is Geraghty, an actor who's built a career on his ability to transmit an innate, immutable goodness and vulnerability. Geraghty was excellent as the beating, bleeding heart of "The Hurt Locker," this film's believability rests entirely on his ability to convey a sea of emotion during one side of a phone call. Actors run from CGI dinosaurs and exploding buildings all the time, but how often do you see someone live out the heartbreaking elation of falling in lopsided, disembodied love? Often held in a single, static shot that inches closer and closer, held for excruciatingly long, personal minutes, Geraghty’s Davy flies like a kamikaze between terror and euphoria, all the while eager to please and utterly out of his depth, cocooned in loneliness, desperate yet incapable of connection. It's that beautiful awkwardness that makes "Easier with Practice" both disquietingly honest and memorable.

"Easier with Practice" opens in limited release Feb. 26.

"The Crazies" is Insanely Fun

Thanks to everyone's favorite recession, movie studios don't do it up the way they used to. The days of over-the-top theme screenings, filled with goody bags and stars, are as dead as disco. But last night, Overture pulled out all the stops to debut "The Crazies" with one of the best events in recent memory.

Arriving in the light mist of a chilly February night, we were greeted by flashlights shining in our face while machine gun-toting soldiers in fatigues and gas masks barked orders. Ushered onto a school bus with blacked out windows, we were taken on a wild goose chase of a ride, only to be dumped out close to where we began and forced to walk a gauntlet of bloodied patients, twitching dead bodies and more screaming soldiers. Imagine a ride at Disneyland, but with spittle spewing drill sergeants and the threat of death around every corner. It was awesome.

Once inside the theater, an announcement promised us we were all "safe—afe—afe—afe." On the heels of the echoes, commandos burst in shouting "Security Breach!," grabbed one "infected" audience member from his seat, his girlfriend shrieking in panic, as they were both dragged off, legs flailing. The entire theater burst into applause. But the fun was just getting started.
"The Crazies," a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original, walks a tight line between B-movie fun and jump-in-your-seat thrills, taking the audience on a ride that has you laughing, cheering and hiding, all in one deliriously exhilarating breath.

Director Breck Eisner (son of Michael), redeeming himself from the epic fail of "Sahara," begins with a picture of the easy life in Ogden Marsh, a hayseed of a town where high school baseball games and gossip are the big news. That is, until the town drunk walks onto the baseball field with a shotgun in the middle of a game, forcing Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, turning in another great genre performance on the heels of last year's "The Perfect Getaway") to shoot him dead.

Before you can say "MadCowSwineFluAnthrax," the sleepy town's morgue is stacked with bodies as an unnamed malady spreads. Soon the entire town is rounded up under military quarantine, leaving Dutton, his doctor wife Judy (the always impressive Radha Mitchell), side-kick deputy Russell (a noteworthy and memorable Joe Anderson) and Judy's assistant Becca (in-training It Girl Danielle Panabaker) in a fight for their lives against trigger happy U.S. soldiers and townspeople who have turned into Crazies.

The truth is, this movie could have been just another schlocky genre piece. But thanks to Eisner's ability to turn everything from an unmanned bone saw to a passing helicopter into a weapon of mass destruction, and paired with exceptional performances, anchored by Olyphant's charisma and pathos, it becomes a cathartic journey through terror that, for a glorious 101 minutes, has you forgetting about the real scariness that exists in the world. Even though you may never trust the drive-thru car wash again, what's really insane is just how much fun "The Crazies" is.

"Ajami" is Brutal, Beautiful Filmmaking

"Ajami," Israel's nominee for this year's Best Foreign Film Academy Award, is a string of intersecting narratives, shifting through time, leaving the audience rapt, heartbroken, elated and horrified. A lot of movies try to do what "Crash" did. "Crash" tried to do what "Ajami" does with haunting brilliance.

Divided into chapters told in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles, the film is as impressive as a piece of cinema as it is a political statement. An Israeli film co-produced by Germans, it was directed by Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew, and Scandor Copti, a Palestinian. In 2002 Shani and Copti set out to make the film as a testament to the relationship their communities could have. Every decision during the entire process had to be mutually agreed upon by both men. That meant, sometimes, they'd stay locked in a room for three days fighting about a single scene before they came to an understanding.

What was eventually wrought is a tangled web of crime and punishment set in the Israeli city of Jaffe and the Ajami neighborhood where Jews, Muslims and Christians live in tense, seething, teetering balance.

Shot in sequence, using real locations and untrained non-actors, the film's realism is at times almost too much to bear, but that tangibility is exactly what makes it unshakably memorable. Chaos descends without warning, dialogue overlaps, the camera tracks characters like eyes peering out from around corners, and violence is unceremoniously delivered. The brutality is jarring, sudden, without sentiment or warning, punctuated only by the sounds of sirens, weeping or stomach churning silence.

Filled with scenes of universal understanding; family arguments, bath time, a communal dinner table, these are familiar slices of life that illustrate just how much we, as human beings, share, making the hatred and distrust that exists in the world, and especially the Middle East, seem absurdly inhumane. Tragic, bleak, intimate and gripping, "Ajami" isn't an easy film to watch but that's part of its unflinching beauty. After all, life isn't easy.

"Drag Race" is the Best Show on Television

Imagine this: "America's Next Top Model" meets "Project Runway" meets "So You Think You Can Dance."

Sounds too good to be true, right? Think again because it already exists!

If you're not watching "RuPaul's Drag Race," the Search for America's Next Drag Superstar, then you are depriving yourself of the best hour television currently has to offer. Yes, including "Lost" which, we understand is a bold statement, but one we stand by.

Yesterday we had the supreme good fortune to stumble across the second season premiere episode of "Drag Race" and now we're like Lindsey Lohan and Adderall. We want more, more, more!

For those unfamiliar with the show, RuPaul serves as both Tyra and Tim Gunn. The first half sees Ru as a tall, elegant man, directing the young drag wannabes during photo shoots and counseling them on their outfit construction. The second half of the show, Ru slithers into a sequined dress and dons a blonde wig to make Dolly Parton proud for the judging panel, which also includes delightfully crazy Santino Rice of "Project Runway" infamy, as they decide who will still compete for the show's $25,000 prize. And these girls work hard for the money!

During last week's episode, the contestants began with a "Gone with the Wind"-inspired photo shoot that had them sitting on a canon, flanked by two oiled up civil war soldiers, while an industrial fan blew them halfway to kingdom come, sending wigs flying and false eyelashes beating in the breeze like a butterfly in a hurricane. Yet, somehow, they still turned out some incredible pictures. Next, they were asked to make an ensemble out of drapes for their "Gone with the Window" challenge. In only 24 hours, far less than those whiners on "Runway," the girls created show-stopping outfits, did their own hair and makeup, and served as their own models during the elimination runway walk-off that would've made Scarlett O'Hara proud. Each week, the bottom two queens have to "Lipsync for Their Lives," with one being asked to "Sashay away" while the other was told, "Chantez, you stay. But don't f--- it up."

Tonight, the search for "charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent" continues with the girls competing as burlesque dancers for this week's celebrity guest judge, Dita Von Teese. "Drag Race" combines all the best elements of reality TV and churns it into something so much greater than the sum of its parts. Captivating, hilarious and campy, this is television at its most addictive.

"Drag Race" airs Mondays at 9pm on Logo and is rebroadcast for those without fancy cable on VH1, Tuesdays at 9pm.

The Surly Goat: Gilding is so 2005

Certain locations in Hollywood just seem cursed. Charcoal became Boho which will undoubtedly soon be something else, while its neighbor, Club Sushi, couldn’t seem to get or stay open. Red Pearl Kitchen on Melrose has already been through numerous iterations and will become Red Onion in March under the watchful eye of celebrity chef Rick Bayless. Similarly, 7929 Santa Monica Boulevard has seemingly been a revolving door of high end lounges.

After multiple nightclubs (24K, iCandy, Seven) tried and failed, Verdugo co-owners Ryan Sweeney and Brandon Bradford partnered with Adolfo Suaya (Osaka, the aforementioned Boho) and Alen Aivazian, to create a new concept. Apparently someone finally realized that, in a recession, you have to cater to the needs of the people. That means bringing the gaudy level down a few hundred notches and recognizing that bottle service, a practice which promised nobodies entre into the hottest hot spots at the peak of our indulgence a few years ago, needs to go the way of the brick cell phone.

Nowadays, people want happy hour prices, simple easy menus and an enjoyable evening that doesn’t require six months of payments to your Visa bill. With that in mind, drum roll please, may we introduce The Surly Goat, a beer bar, where bottle service has been replaced with a gentler, easier kind of bar scene. Think wine bar but yeastier and more relaxed.

The Surly Goat (not to be confused with The Lazy Ox which recently opened in Downtown) aims to be a homey, neighborhood pub with an extensive selection of obscure craft beers and none of the tacky gold spray paint and mirrored tiles 24K’s owners left behind. There are 27 beers on tap, ranging from $5-9, one to two cask engines and another 100 750ml bottles ($14-50), along with exclusive beers, like San Francisco brewery Speakeasy’s Public Enemy Pilsner, an peanut-tinged heritage beer that dates to the pre-Prohibition era, which will only be available at The Surly Goat and Verdugo.

If that doesn’t lift the curse of 7929 Santa Monica Blvd, nothing will.

Word to the wise, except a limited menu, perhaps just a few cheeses and chocolates, but that’s part of the fun at a bar whose name comes from the German word, “bock,” which means both billy goat and a lager so strong it can knock you on your ass like a billy goat.

The Surly Goat
7929 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046

"Dear John" is a Love Letter to Failure and Heartbreak

Why lie? When the trailer for "Dear John" first broke on the internet, we couldn’t get through it without getting a little choked up. Come on! From the guy who wrote the ultimate tear-jerker, "The Notebook," comes another gloriously saccharine syrupy tale of young love torn asunder. Throw in that damn Snow Patrol song, a 9-11 theme and a few glamour shots of wet, half-naked Channing Tatum and ethereal Breck girl Amanda Seyfried and we were sold. Sadly, "Dear John" is much better as a trailer than as an actual film.

The pre-Valentine’s Day date flick offering is the story of John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a Special Forces solider, who meets and falls for Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) while on leave at home in North Carolina. After just two weeks together, the pair is madly, desperately, in love, a romance that plays out through a series of Dear John letters as John returns to combat duty.

Adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name, it has all the signature Sparks’ elements audiences have gobbled up along with their Junior Mints and XXL popcorn, making the author one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood. There’s a summer love story set in a small town in North Carolina, the couple has a catch phrase (“I’ll be seeing you” is “See you soon then” this time around), and the romantic heroes make out in the rain. It’s a formula that’s worked like Novocain before. But not this time.

Part of the blame lands squarely on Sparks’ shoulders. It’s very difficult to be invested in a romance where the main characters spend the majority of the film apart, making the love story feel untethered and unsatisfying. But bigger fault lies in the direction by Lasse Hallstrom, whose previous work runs the gamut from profoundly brilliant ("What’s Eating Gilbert Grape," "My Life as a Dog") to the legendarily campy (Hallstrom directed 26 of ABBAs best known music videos, including "Dancing Queen"). "Dear John" is neither. Lost somewhere in a no man’s land of sad sack melodrama and thwarted romance, the film is like a child first learning to play the saxophone. While some notes land on their mark, most are cringingly off key.

Despite other flaws, the one constant in the film is good acting. Tatum turns in an unexpectedly layered, emotionally revealing performance, while Seyfried lends her role an interestingly quirky twist. Richard Jenkins, as always, is stellar as John’s distant father, a relationship which provides the most deeply touching scene in the film, and Henry Thomas, of early "E.T" fame, has a small but pivotal role that is mostly notable because, well, it’s Henry frickin’ Thomas ("Ehhh-lee-ot").
Neither a great film nor a terrible film, this is the kind of movie that makes men roll their eyes close around Valentine’s Day when their girlfriends say "Oh honey, we have to go see that!"

Dear John,

It doesn’t seem right to say this in writing but there’s no other way. We don’t ever want to see you again. It’s not you. It’s us. It simply wasn’t meant to be.


Shocking But True, "From Paris with Love" is a Rockin' Good Time

Warning: The words you are about to read are startling, perhaps even unbelievable, but they are shockingly true. "From Paris with Love" is a really enjoyable movie. No really. Really really. Swear-on-your-mom really. Walking into a screening, we were prepared for the worst, but as the film unspooled, we were shocked to discover it was funny (yes, intentionally), thrilling, well paced and stylish. Is it "Lawrence of Arabia"? Hell no. But it's a damn fun 90 minutes which is better than what most movie goers can find this February.

"From Paris with Love" follows James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a personal aide to the US Ambassador in France. He's living the good life in Paris with a respectable job and a smoking hot French girlfriend, but what he really wants is be a CIA operative. His one and only chance to become a secret agent man depends on his first mission and new partner, Charlie Wax (John Travolta). Soon Chinese restaurants are dissolving into full blown firefights, flights of stairs are littered with collateral damage and the Eiffel Tower becomes a better spot to sniff cocaine out of an urn than take a postcard picture. (Actors, take note. While he’s obviously been method when it came to research, Rhys Meyers has his "I'm on coke" act down pat.)

Directed by Pierre Morel and based on Luc Beeson's story, the film as an easy chumminess perhaps fueled by the pair's own long-standing relationship. Morel was a camera operator on Beeson’s Joan of Arc tale, "The Messenger," the cinematographer on "The Transporter" and, in 2008, Besson wrote and Morel helmed "Taken," the Liam Neeson-starrer whose sequel is currently in development. Both men have a keen understanding of action, interlacing their films with kinetic bullet ballet from the John Woo school while splattering the audience with humor before and after the bloodshed.

Most of the comedy in their current project comes from Travolta, doing his very best Samuel L. Jackson impression. Once Charlie Wax arrives onscreen, the movie takes off for a ride that soon hits 115 mph, literally, with Travolta hanging out of the window of an Audi trying to bring down the enemy with a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Sure, Rhys Meyers lacks some acting chops and his preposterous proclamation that he's from the mean streets of the Bronx will undoubtedly draw titters from the audience and Travolta looks a little like he's wearing a merkin as a goatee (perhaps one borrowed from the set of Rhys Meyers' day job on "The Tudors"), but he sweeps the audience along in a tsunami of fun from his first audible line about fingers being stuck where the sun don't shine. Is it 500 horses in the desert? Nope. But it's got its own spunky funk that is unexpectedly enjoyable.

Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried on ABBA, True Love and "Dear John"

“What does it mean to truly love another?”

That’s the question Nicholas Sparks, and his wiley, tear-jerking ways, asks in "Dear John," the most recent film adaptation from the author to arrive on screens. The movie, which tells the story of John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a Special Forces solider, who falls in love with Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) while on leave at home in North Carolina, is about “first love, that one you cannot get right no matter how hard you try,” Tatum, sporting a goatee and a luxurious black cashmere sweater, says after settling into a table at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.

The actor, who deftly exposes a masculine yet tender and vulnerable John Tyree, has been attached to the project since it began development four years ago, long before the studio had a script, a director or a co-star. He says it was the imperfection of the love story that first attracted him to the material. “You’re supposed to not do things right,” Tatum smiles. “That’s what I loved about reading the book and that’s what I love about the movie. It’s not a fantastical box of a movie with a bow on top. It’s real. It has more edge and darkness to it than some of [Sparks’] novels in the past.”

Adding to the realism was the inclusion of Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, My Life As a Dog), a man who Tatum describes as having “a sort of allergic reaction to anything that’s cheesy.” It’s an interesting affliction for the man who helmed a catalogue of ABBA videos during their prime years, from 1974-1982, including classics for Dancing Queen and Supertrouper. Filled with soft focus, smoke machine haze, star filters and silver leisure suits, those videos made frequent appearances on the Dear John set. “He’ll show you on his iPod,” Tatum laughs. “He’ll be like, ‘Hey guys, would you like to see my earlier work?’”

Having gotten any cheesiness out of his system with his early music videos, a time the director calls “film school,” Hallstrom was very concerned about how to walk the line between drama and romantic melodrama without making it seem forced. “My number one challenge was to stay on the right side of that line,” Hallstrom explains in a soft Swedish accent. “I am very drawn to strong sentiment, but I think I have an allergy to sentimentality. The difference, I think, is in the performances. I tried to stay real and honest with the performances and make it as authentic as possible. That’s the trick. Anytime you do a false move, something pushed, stylized or affected, you’re dead.”

Hallstrom was unfamiliar with Tatum’s work when he was approached to direct. Before signing onto the project, he wanted to make sure he would be able to work with an actor he hadn’t expressly chosen for the role. “I watched his movies and he was very real. I met him and just thought he was the best choice. He’s a really great actor. He’s so sweet and charming and gregarious and generous,” the director enthuses.

Searching for the female lead, some of the best young talent in Hollywood auditioned but Seyfried brought a quirkiness to the part unlike any other actress.

“We auditioned lots of ladies and she was the choice,” Hallstrom says. “She was unpredictable.”

“I got to read with all the girls,” Tatum recalls. “It’s very interesting to see these different Savannahs and then one walks through the door and you’re like, ‘Ooooh. Right.’ It’s one of those ah-ha moments. [Amanda’s] fantastic. She’s hilarious and really weird at times, which kind of makes it great. She makes really interesting choices, goes away from the obvious all the time, she’s got the voice of an angel and she’s beautiful. She’s the perfect package.”

Seyfried lights up at the mention of her leading man and is eager to return the compliment when she hears the praise heaped on her by Tatum. “When I first met [Channing] I was like ‘Oh, shoot, am I gonna fall in love with him?’” the actress beams. “He’s so cute and so funny and really honest. He’s the perfect co-star. We both really respected each other and we had the same mentality on set. When you have an actor that just jumps in it with you, it’s pretty cool.”

Dear John opens February 5th

"Moon" is Stellar Filmmaking

Duncan Jones’ directorial debut, "Moon," is, like its namesake, mesmerizing, stunning, haunting, illuminating and mysterious. A throwback to 70s-style science fiction films like Outland with a dash of 2001, star Sam Rockwell turns in a virtuoso performance which moves from brash, aggressive space cowboy to a slowly disintegrating permutation of Dustin Hoffman’s Ratzo Rizzo in "Midnight Cowboy."

The film is set on the moon in the near future. The Earth’s primary energy source is Helium-3 harvested from the lunar surface by a soul operator on a three year tour of duty at the loneliest, most solitary outpost imaginable with just a perky Hal-like computer named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey, adding to the creepy Hal-ness) and his smiley face emoticons to communicate with.

Describing this film would be to rob an audience of the wonderful discovery the movie holds. Suffice it to say, "Moon" is about many things including the unavoidable finality of life, the tenuous nature between who we are and who we’d like to be, the consumptive nature of humans and the question: If you met yourself, would you like yourself?

Michael Cera's New Film is "Revolt"ing

"Youth in Revolt," adapted from C.D. Payne's cult novels, brings to life the journal entries of teenager Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a virgin who falls desperately in love with Sheeni Saunders (played by captivating newcomer Portia Doubleday) when they cross paths on the way to their trailer park's bathroom. Soon, he's doing anything he can to be near her, including creating an alter ego named Francois Dillinger, a cigarette smoking, foul mouthed, randy, mustachioed bad ass who makes him spark a raging inferno that burns down most of Berkeley, California. What some guys won't do to get laid, huh?

The film, Miguel Arteta's first directorial effort since "The Good Girl" in 2002, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2009 to excited buzz. The question is, why?

Sadly, Arteta has created an antiseptic, coming-of-age sex comedy without the titillation or humor to maintain his audience's attention and Cera's signature brand of dry, high-strung, doe-eyed humor has worn tediously thin. No matter the role, it seems like Cera insists on doing the same thing he's done since he made George-Michael a household name. Perhaps his acting development arrested there. If you find yourself drifting out of this film, we recommend making it more interesting by imagining Cera's going head-to-head with Jesse Eisenberg in an awkward-off (Kristen Stewart could judge).

The Nick Twisp who exists on Payne's page is rude, vibrant, thoughtful, perverse and brimming with the agony of adolescence. Onscreen, despite acts of arson, cross-dressing, larceny and a Thanksgiving mushroom trip, it all seems spineless. Even Francois Dillinger, the character meant to embody sauvé savoir faire, feels showy, off-key and effortful. If it weren’t for Doubleday's well calculated and comely turn as the ultimate, unattainable dream girl, the film's shortcomings might be even less forgivable.

Adolescence is difficult, but "Youth in Revolt" makes it downright painful. It's too bad. With such good source material, a director who was seemingly the master of deadpan, and a cast boasting everyone from Steve Buscemi to Justin Long, we had higher hopes.