Saturday, November 28, 2009

I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER--PG-13 (now playing at home where it's good to have the DVD so you can freeze frame that brief nudity)

Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is the the high school class valedictorian and ultimate nerd. Spurred on by his best buddy, Rich, (Jack Carpenter) he throws caution to the wind and professes his love for delectable cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) during his graduation speech. Cooper, who has never really noticed him, is shocked, and so is her Neanderthal boyfriend, Kevin, (Shawn Roberts) who subsequently makes it his mission to stalk and beat the crap out of Denis at every turn.

But Beth takes a bit of a shine to Denis--in the way you would if you'd found an abandoned puppy--and brings her two sexpot friends along to a party that Denis and Rich are throwing--just for them, as it turns out. What follows is a wild night of partying, reckless driving, Neanderthals bullying nerds, a titillating scene in the girl's locker room, stepping in cow sh*t, and an encounter with a demonically possessed raccoon. In other words, all the usual things kids do on graduation night.

It is a night of discovery. Denis discovers a Beth Cooper vastly different--and wilder--than the idealized version of her he's had in his head all this time, and must try to reconcile the two before his disillusionment gets the best of him. Rich, whom everyone (except him) believes is gay, discovers which side of the fence he's really on...sort of. And Beth begins to consider what the future might really hold for someone like her, as wild times give way to sobering reflection.

At this point, I Love You, Beth Cooper becomes a sweet coming of age tale--cliched, perhaps, but it sucked me in nevertheless. There are overtones of American Graffiti, American Pie, Revenge of the Nerds, and Porky's here. Just remember it's PG-13, so keep everything in perspective. Though I must say that the line between PG-13 and R-rated films seems to be blurring. It's okay now to use the F-word (at least once) in PG-13, and the kind of suggestiveness you might think would have previously garnered this flick an R designation.

Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader from the Heroes TV series, will do just fine as long as she continues to play cheerleaders and shows a little skin. I don't know if she's ever been a real cheerleader, but I know I feel cheerier when the camera's on her instead of Rust, who had a lot of balls even BECOMING an actor with that Cyrano de Bergerac mug of his.

There are some good hard-rockin' tunes in I Love You, Beth Cooper--but there's a herky-jerky feel as to where they fall in, and the movie drags in spots. Keep the soundtrack going underneath in some of these scenes and we may convince ourselves that we're pumped up about them anyway.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Richard Curtis, writer/director of Love Actually, (on my top ten favorite movies of all time list) is back, paying homage to the rock n roll revolution of the sixties and the "pirate" radio stations that broke through the British government's tight-assed policy of limiting the exposure of rock music to a couple of hours a week on the BBC. During the mid-sixties, while Americans were rockin' and boppin' to the "British Invasion" music of the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, etc. on the radio airwaves, the British public was literally being starved of their own music. This gave rise to the first pirate radio ship, Radio Caroline, anchored in international waters off the British coast--and others that followed--which began rocking out and giving the public what they wanted to hear. Pirate Radio is a fictionalized comedy loosely based on those historic events.

Pirate Radio grabs you right out of the gate with The Kinks blasting from the theater speakers as we're introduced to the wacky deejays that populate the ship, Radio Rock--including The Count, (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and later on Gavin, (Rhys Ifans) Britain's "greatest deejay" come to join the rebels and provide his own brand of mildly salacious banter to get Radio Rock's legions of followers stirred up. Quentin, (Bill Nighy, whom we loved in Love Actually) is the captain and head honcho who tries to ride herd on his colorful assemblage of eight distinctive personalities.

Saturdays bring boat loads of hero-worshiping female fans to the ship, who provide the sex to go along with the drugs and rock n roll. Then there's the subplot of Carl, (Tom Sturridge) Quentin's young godchild who comes aboard and comes of age as he tries to lose his virginity to the exotic Marianne, (Talulah Riley) who's more enamored with one of the deejays--even though he's ugly--because HE'S A DEEJAY!

Momentum and dramatic tension build as the staid British government attempts to shut the pirate station down and rid the airwaves of all that trashy, undignified, un-stiff upper lip music. Kenneth Branagh is annoyingly anal as Sir Alistair Dormandy, who tries every trick in the book to sink Radio Rock--eventually leading to the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 that officially outlaws pirate radio.

There's a bunch of irrelevant silliness in the middle of Pirate Radio that completely knocks the wind out of the movie's sails at that point, slowing what had been a building momentum leading to the inevitable showdown between the pirates and the British authorities. Fortunately, though, the film picks up again and roars full speed ahead to a stirring climax and conclusion.

Pirate Radio would have gotten a higher grade from me if not for this buzz-kill in the middle, but it is what it is. The rest of the movie, however, is KICK-ASS, with an almost nonstop soundtrack of the grooviest Stones, Kinks, Hendrix, The Who, Beach Boys, Turtles, and yes--even The Seekers--setting the whole theater on the verge of breaking out and boogeying in the aisles! (And you definitely SHOULD see it in the theater.)

Some of you know that I spent decades working as a radio deejay inside and outside the continental U.S. And while Pirate Radio is played pretty much over the top, the stuff about the adoring females who worshiped (and bestowed certain types of favors upon) their radio icons during the heyday of rock n roll (as I look back fondly on those times) was NOT terribly exaggerated.

I'm still grinning from ear to ear.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

GIGANTIC (2008) Rated: R ( Now playing at home where you don't have to sneak your homemade popcorn into the theater)

We need more women who say, (in the middle of an ordinary conversation) "Do you have any interest in having sex with me?" Maybe that's why I like Zooey Deschanel's character in Gigantic. Deschanel is making a career of playing fascinatingly spooky chicks, (Yes Man, 500 Days of Summer) and maybe that's the seed of my fascination with the actress herself. These lasses seem to have a tenuous hold on reality--and if you get involved with them, they'll keep you guessing all the way because, honestly, THEY can't anticipate what they'll do how can you?

I have known this kind of chick. I have been screwed-over by this kind of chick. But if they've got the doe eyes of a Zooey Deschanel, you'll throw caution and good judgement to the wind. That's what Brian Weathersby, (Paul Dano) 28 year old Manhattan mattress salesman does when Harriet "Happy" Lolly (Deschanel) shows up at his mattress showroom and plops down on the fourteen thousand dollar bed her well-heeled father has just purchased, and zonks out for a couple of hours.

Brian's life-long dream has been to adopt a baby from China. He's working on it. But you won't get any insight into what motivates a single guy with a modest income to be thus oriented until near the end of the movie. Brian's involvement with the aimless Happy deepens. They think they feel something for each other. But when Brian finally gets word about his little bundle of joy, Happy balks and decides on a whim to go to cooking school in France.

Along the way, Brian consults with his friend who works in a rat lab for relationship advice; ingests magic mushrooms with his dad (Ed Asner) and goes tripping into the woods; and gets stalked and repeatedly attacked by this crazy homeless dude, in a subplot that had me wondering if the stalker was real or just an imaginary metaphor for the curve balls life throws to try to derail us from our mission. All of which may make you scratch your head and wonder how these things fit into the main plot. The only explanation is that plot-driven stories usually make some kind of logical sense, but Gigantic is all about the characters. Speaking of which, John Goodman is funny as hell as Happy's eccentric, overbearing dad. And just like its characters, Gigantic is unpredictable right up to the end (which is magical!)

First time writer-director Matt Aselton has given us a small indie gem in the vast sea of movie mediocrity--exactly the kind of thing I love discovering. Telling you about it is equally as satisfying. Enjoy.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Amelia Earhart loved freedom so much that she was willing to engage in the riskiest kind of behavior to obtain it: An unprecedented attempt to fly around the world in a smaller aircraft--inclement weather be damned--and on the last leg of her ill-fated journey, without adequate fuel. And because no official trace of her and navigator Fred Noonan was every found, (though in recent years some intriguing finds have rekindled speculation about her ultimate fate) her story has fascinated us for more than seventy years.

Everyone knows of the legend, and any film about Amelia Earhart that would have a chance to hold our interest at this point would necessarily need to focus as much on her personal life as her public persona. And that's what Amelia attempts to do. Oscar winner Hillary Swank, whose features are tailor made for playing masculine looking women--as in Boys Don't Cry, where she convincingly portrays a young girl posing as a young boy, until her duds come off to reveal that WHOA...she's ALL woman---has Amelia's look and accent nailed.

Richard Gere is publisher George Putnam, initially Earhart's P.R. guy, and later her husband, who seems content to be the "wind beneath her wings" and take a back seat to her celebrity. (Gere is  too flashy of a presence to be right for this subdued kind of personality, so he was likely selected for the role just to give the film more star power.) The dramatic tension of Earhart's personal life centers around her affair with eventual TWA founder Gene Vidal, (Ewan McGregor) and whether she will ultimately choose him or stand by her husband.  

Amelia has been knocked for not going into more detail about  Earhart's back story--it stays mainly with her role as a pioneering aviatrix and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic--but it was the thirties, and every intimate detail of a celebrity's life wasn't hashed about in the media as it is today. There was an unwritten journalistic code about staying mum on embarrassing details of our "heroes" lives, which extended through John F. Kennedy's presidency. And so, life being more about the surface image than what's lies beneath it,  Earhart's rumored bisexuality is only hinted at in one line of dialogue, but this seems appropriate given the era in which she lived.

If Amelia Earhart's all consuming free-spiritedness  was the main thing director Mira Nair was trying to capture, she succeeded marvelously. Buoyed by a haunting and memorable score from Gabriel Yared,  the aerial shots--reminiscent of Out of Africa--are stunning.

If  there are tears to be shed viewing Amelia, (and there are) they're more about the awe-inspiring scope of Ms. Earhart's life, rather than her untimely demise.