Screen Reviews

Anywhere, USA

Anywhere, USA

directed by Chusy Haney-Jardine

starring Mary Griffin, Ellis Robinson, Brian Fox

Cinevovle Studios

Why do we watch indie films? Because they don’t look or feel like Hollywood blockbuster bait. Why do we hate indie films? Because they abandon established story-telling tropes and idioms and make you think. And how does one decide to love or hate an indie film? Ya gotta watch the darn thing; otherwise, you have no right to pontificate at the Eden Bar.

It took a while to get though this triad of semi-related stories by hotshot director Chusy (Chusy Haney-Jardine). While it’s a comedy, it’s no Adam Sandler painful laugh fest — the humor is subtle and situational and full of generalized weirdness. In the first of three stories, an odd and slightly abusive romance between Tammy (Griffin) and Ellis (Robinson) pokes along like an RV on a two-lane highway. Ellis finds Tammy looking at cocks on the Internet, and she does some online dating with a Middle Eastern looking fellow (Rafat Abu-Goush). Ellis and his R/C racing midget buddy (Fox) bug Tammy’s room and decide her date is a terrorist. He’s not, but they shoot off Ellis’ balls anyway. Bloody crotch = big laughs, or so Mr. Haney-Jardine hopes.

We now follow stoner Jeremiah (Jeremiah Brennan) who “accidentally” puts his niece (Perla Haney-Jardine) in a realtor’s car where she eats some pot brownies and suffers a crisis of faith about the tooth fairy. Everybody must get stoned, and the tyke’s faith in the faithless is eventually restored. Lastly, the patriarch of a cartoonishly wealthy family suffers a momentary hallucination that involves meeting black people and buying them lunch. Yes, it was all a bad dream, and no scary ethnic types will come anywhere near his 5,600-square-foot Ashville mansion unless he pays them to mow the putting green. And then, Deus Ex Machina, all these people are related somehow which might tie up all the loose ends in this film, but fails.

At first I thought “OK, I’m missing some subtle cinematic trick,” so I cheated and looked up the user reviews on IMDB. They were split — a bunch of super low scores, a bunch of super high scores, nothing in the middle. This movie falls into the same file as Morrissey, Supertramp, and Andy Kaufman — I just don’t see the appeal. The pacing is glacial, with only the midget saving the day. Tammy and Ellis do have a fetish I’d never heard of (she beats him with a tennis racquet while he’s in the shower), but it’s not a really good fetish. The lost girl story leaves open more questions than it answers, and watching rich people fantasize about slumming is never as much fun as going with them and actually doing it. The only redeeming feature on this DVD is the director’s commentary. Here, Chusy explains each nuance and cinematic decision. THAT I found interesting; had he replaced the awkward dialog with his own stream of editing consciousness, he would have had a brilliant movie. Your mileage may differ — there are some rabid supporters out there, but at least you’ve been warned.

Cinevolve Studios: • MVD Visual: • Anywhere, USA:

Music Reviews



The War on Errorism


Musically, The War on Errorism is classic NOFX: driving drums, tickling bass, creative strumming. It’s solid, trucking with a purpose, like an old steam train. Every once in a while it strays from the track just slightly to make things interesting (an organ interlude on “The Irrationality of Rationality,” for example). But with The War on Errorism it appears that NOFX are stepping into new territory, lyrically at least.

The first tune, “The Separation of Church and Skate,” makes NOFX’s current politically bent anthem known: “I want conflict I want dissent, I want the scene to represent / our hatred of authority, our fight against complacency… Stop singing songs about girls and love…” This take-back-the-scene attitude prevails throughout the album, and Fat Mike, principal lyricist, is at least honest.

On “Franco Un-American” he sings, “I never thought about the universe, it made me feel small…then I read some Howard Zinn / Now I’m always depressed / And now I can’t sleep from years of apathy, all because I read a little Noam Chomsky.”

For those straining for the ol’ NOFX, they slide in “She’s Nubs,” a humorous Abbott & Costello meets Adam Sandler comedy routine about a woman without arms, legs, etc. “We Got Two Jealous Agains” is an unlikely love song about lovers integrating their albums. I wish every love story could begin with, “I thought you were the one when I heard ‘Holiday In The Sun’ come from your bedroom.”

They even mix it up some, with a ska beat backing ’60s doowop and an ambling sax on “Anarchy Camp.”

NOFX returns to the politics on “Re-gaining Unconsciousness” and hops over to the strange with “Whoops, I OD’d.”

The War on Errorism, which includes music videos and a trailer for Unprecedented, a movie about the 2000 Presidential election, adds to NOFX’s repertoire with equal parts politics and humor.

NOFX: • Epitaph Records:

Screen Reviews

50 First Dates

50 First Dates

directed by Peter Segal

starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Blake Clark

Columbia Pictures

What more could a lothario want than a ravishing blonde who forgets the previous day’s events when she falls asleep? Just think of the possibilities… Adam Sandler has, and in his new feel-good flick, 50 First Dates, rejects them all when that ravishing, eternal one-night stand turns out to be the girl of his dreams.

Sandler again plays a barely-altered version of himself, Henry Roth, a veterinarian at an Oahu Sea World-type of amusement park. When he’s not taking care of a projectile-vomiting walrus or a highly intuitive penguin, Henry’s bagging more tail than Hef on a Viagra bender. Posing as a secret agent or a cliff diver, Henry, urged on by his perverse Hawaiian sidekick Ula (ever-present and ever-hilarious Rob Schneider, with a deep tan and cloudy eye) snags lonely tourist after lonely tourist. It’s a perfect setup for a committment-phobic fellow, but Henry is getting weary of it all; he plans on getting the hell off of the island soon, to sail his battered ketch to Alaska and study walruses.

And then along comes Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore, getting more voluptous by the movie). Henry spies her building a house out of waffles at a beach diner, and it’s love at first sight. After spending half a day together, they plan on meeting again the next morning.

When Henry arrives for the date, the waffle-obsessed art teacher doesn’t recognize him. It seems Lucy suffers from a rare form of brain damage as a result of a car accident the year before. Every day, the diner’s Hawaiian staff humor her; at home, her doting father (Blake Clark) and steroid-damaged, lisping brother (Sean Astin) go to great pains to make every day just like it would have been the day of the accident — her dad’s birthday. A doctored newspaper is ready every morning, the three eat the same kind of birthday cake every evening, and they watch the same taped football game and film every night.

Though he has been warned by Lucy’s family and friends to stay away, the spellbound romeo just can’t resist her. The next problem is that Henry’s initial come-on doesn’t work the next time he tries it at the diner; he winds up resorting to more and more elaborate means of getting her attention.

When Henry realizes that he truly loves Lucy, he also discovers that the elaborate deceptions designed to avoid Lucy going into shock every morning aren’t fair to her — or them. “What are you going to do when she wakes up one morning, looks in the mirror and sees that she’s aged ten years overnight?” Henry asks Dad.

The lovesick vet soon formulates an ingenious plan, and the film turns a page to its second, even more charming act.

Henry Roth, like so many of Sandler’s supremely nice everyman characters of past movies (Mr. Deeds, Big Daddy, etc.) is sure to make many males in the audience feel terribly inadequate, but 50 First Dates is nonetheless a great date movie — and, if the gals can forgive their date’s relative shortcomings, a perfect Valentine’s day flick. With her bad-girl phase seemingly behind her, co-producer Drew Barrymore has exuded a genuine sweetness onscreen recently, and this effort is no exception. Mr. Sandler has to be commended, as well. It is not easy to gather the same cameo-snagging friends every year to make another installment of his Happy Madison production franchise, but Sandler (this time around assisted by Anger Management director Peter Segal, as well as Dan Ackroyd in a perfect role) never seems to run out of entertaining scripts, never seems to run out of steam. Refreshingly, the “local” cast, slang and gorgeous scenery is authentically Hawaiian, proving to be a nice touch, as are the awfully cute animals.

Yes, 50 First Dates is a bit of a ripoff of Groundhog Day, and yes, it does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but taking your significant other to this top-notch romantic comedy is a guarantee of a very pleasant evening afterwards. (Note: the terminally single should not see 50 First Dates; you will only go home and ponder your wretched existence with an even darker cloud overhead).

50 First Dates:

Music Reviews

Liam Lynch

Liam Lynch

Fake Songs


If the name Liam Lynch already rings a bell, chances are it’s because of his short-lived sock-puppet based The Sifl and Olly Show. Though incredibly low budget, the show garnered big laughs thanks in large part to Lynch’s goofy puppet designs. But without the corresponding visuals Fake Songs is on its way to becoming — shudder — a musical comedy album. At its worst, tracks like “Still Wasted From the Party Last Night” and “Happy Song” come across like contrived morning DJ songs created solely to annoy. These songs lack only a forced laugh track to make them completely worthless. While the comedy side of the album falls almost completely flat (“United States of Whatever” is funny in a very MTV sort of way), the pseudo-serious songs come across as slavish homage. Sure, Lynch gives some of these songs getting-away-with-it titles (“Fake Bjork Song,” “Fake Bowie Song,” etc.), but what about the blatant T-Rex rip-off “Cuz You Do” then? It doesn’t poke fun at anything, just sits there, rocks an old groove and wonders what to do with itself before giving way to an ode to internal organs (“I’m All Bloody Inside”). What?!

The accompanying DVD comes overflowing with music videos, behind the scenes footage, home movies and animation segments. It’s a shame that 90% of this is puppet-less filler. The behind the scenes portion is utterly mind-boggling. Lynch must have a very healthy ego to think that anyone needs to watch all of the minutiae of his recording process. The idea of providing a running, serious commentary to a comedy album would be very post-modern cool if it wasn’t so completely boring. The music video section contains at least a few laughs. “Rapbot” going on an old-school rampage is extremely funny while “Frankie Forcefield Theme Song,” an ode to one of Lynch’s cats, rates pretty high on the cuteness scale. Hm. That’s about it.

Someone should tell Lynch that he’s got to make a decision: go for comedy or play it straight. If he chooses to play the “serious” musician, he’s got to learn that simple music obsession isn’t an excuse for a general lack of originality. If he opts for comedy (pleasepleaseplease) he’ll have to recognize his “funny” is a sock with his hand in it. But, please, nothing like this again.


Screen Reviews

Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub

It is truly a great thing when a contemporary movie comes out with as much belief — with nary a trace of irony or cynicism — in the sheer power of love, the belief that it can sweep us up in its madness and overwhelm us with its ability to both hurt and heal, the idea that love is what fills in our gaps. In his fourth and most recent film — the surreal, bizarre and completely wonderful Punch-Drunk Love — Paul Thomas Anderson has made just such a movie. In 89 minutes, less than half of his previous film’s running time (the sprawling though stunning Magnolia), Anderson picks us up and takes us on a truly unique journey, showing us a movie we’ve truly never seen before. He challenges the audience and our expectations and allows us to see how truly refreshing it is to watch a story unfold whose path can’t be predicted, something that wasn’t planned out to the letter in some faceless corporate movie office — but rather something that is consistently fresh, invigorating, surprising, and filled to the very brim with love.

Oh yeah, and there’s this Adam Sandler fellow in it, too. He’s one to watch, I think. He can break your heart.

Sandler, doing the best work of his life here by a country mile, is the film’s center, its focus. Appearing in nearly every scene, the movie depends on him and his ability to make us believe in the sad existence of his Barry Egan. If the film hopes to work in any way, on any level, Sandler must deliver nothing short of a wonderful performance. Which is exactly what he does. Of course, some critics have noted that he is not necessarily playing anything other than a more restrained version of the character he has perfected (for lack of a better word) in films such as Happy Gilmore or Big Daddy — but in that regard, I’d have to disagree.

As Barry, Sandler’s performance is full of both nuance and subtlety, the humor of his character more firmly rooted in a deep pathos, allowing us to feel for Barry, rather than to merely laugh at him and his various outbursts. And while it might be funnier to hear Sandler tell a cute girl he has just met that “My girlfriend’s dead you know. She jumped off a cliff and died on impact” (Happy Gilmore), it’s far more rewarding an experience to see him fall deeply, truly in love. Paul Thomas Anderson, who on the surface would seem to have little in common with Sandler and his films, actually manages to direct Sandler into a moving performance that gains miles out of what isn’t said, as opposed to what is. It is about what is shown or hinted at in Barry rather than what is forced down our throats that makes Sandler’s performance — and by extension, Anderson’s direction — so engaging. It’s simply wonderful to watch.

Barry Egan is a lonely man. He is a frustrated man. He is a tormented man. Having been raised among seven sisters intent on ruining his life with their constant chatter and meddling (“Remember when we called you ‘gay boy’ and you’d get all mad? Remember that? Are you still gay?”), and now finding himself running a mundane business selling toiletries to hotel chains in a factory in the middle of Nowhere, California, Egan is a portrait in isolation and sadness as the film begins. And then a harmonium is mysteriously dropped off on the street in front of him, a beautiful girl (a luminous Emily Watson) walks by and asks him to watch her car until the mechanic opens up, and he discovers a loophole in a promotional special that will allow him to obtain a million frequent flyer miles by spending less than 3,000 dollars on Healthy Choice pudding. Remember, this is, after all, a Paul Thomas Anderson film. This is a writer/director not afraid to have a plague-like rain of frogs drop down on his characters. You quickly learn, in his universe, to expect the unexpected.

Eventually, Barry is formally introduced to the girl he had met earlier that morning, Lena Leonard — who works with one of Barry’s seven sisters- – and, despite the rather awkward circumstances surrounding them (Egan is busy answering threatning calls from a phone sex operator who is trying to extort money from him, while all around the factory, things fall and break and people keep stopping in to ask him why he has so much pudding stacked up by his office), Barry and Lena manage to have a wonderful little bit of conversation. He opens up a bit, for the first time in the movie we see him appear almost happy. Watson, timid herself, seems to find the same connection. She asks him to dinner and gives him her address. And so the journey towards love begins…

And Punch-Drunk Love truly is a love story, albeit an utterly and fantastically unconventional one. From the swelling strings and pounding drums on the soundtrack (never overdone or sappy though, thanks to the genius of composer Jon Brion) to the often gorgeous, washed out cinematography and beautifully painted screen wipes, Anderson immerses his film in the feeling of love. Yes, there are other threats in the film, other obstacles Barry must get through on his way to happiness, but through love, he feels he can make it. Besides, any film which can actually have Adam Sandler speak the line “I have a love and it gives me more strength than you could ever imagine,” and not produce a cringe or a titter in the audience — but can actually give you goose bumps — must qualify as a truly great film. Well, happily, Punch-Drunk Love is just that. A glorious melding of the respective talents of Anderson and Sandler — an assured and daring directorial style that brings out Sandler the human as opposed to Sandler the buffoon man-child — this film easily stands as one of the best films released thus far in 2002.

And now I have a new favorite Adam Sandler film, as well.