"DEATH AT A FUNERAL"


        MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Matthew MacFadyen as DANIEL
    Keeley Hawes as JANE
    Andy Nyman as HOWARD
    Ewen Bremner as JUSTIN
    Daisy Donovan as MARTHA
    Alan Tudyk as SIMON SMITH
    Peter Dinklage as PETER

    Rated R
    Studio: MGM

    Directed by: Frank Oz

Over the years, director Frank Oz has blown hot and cold. Some of his movies have been absolute brilliance. For example, one of my favorites is his musical adaptation of “Little Shop of Horrors” in 1986. Even later in his career, films like “Bowfinger” have been great.

However, some films have really stunk. “In and Out” was convoluted and silly, and “The Stepford Wives” was an absolute mess. However, with “Death at a Funeral,” he has come a long way to redeem himself as a comedy director.

With “Death at a Funeral,” Oz goes back to the well and taps into British humor, which has been so influential over the years for him, going back to “The Muppet Show” in the 70s. In this film, we follow a group of highly dysfunctional people attending the funeral of their patriarch. Of course, things go badly for a few and worse for others.

One son is struggling with the eulogy while the other (more successful) one is flying in from the states. A son-in-law, played expertly by Alan Tudyk, is accidentally on drugs, while the rest of the family spits venom at each other. Things turn ridiculous when Peter Dinklage shows up with a blackmail plot.

If you don’t like British comedy, you probably should stay away from this movie. However, if you can connect with this type of humor, it can be a lot of fun. The film falls in the realm of a screwball comedy, but it has an off-center approach that is a bit different than your standard American faire. I can’t exactly call it high-brow because the movie takes some low hits, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Male nudity and poo jokes work fine in an art-house flick too.

The DVD comes with two commentaries, one with Frank Oz and the other with writer Dean Craig and actors Alan Tudyk and Andy Nyman. The only other feature is limited to a gag reel. However, the real laughs are in the film itself rather than the extras menu.



"FEAST OF LOVE"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Morgan Freeman as HARRY STEVENSON
    Greg Kinnear as BRADLEY SMITH
    Radha Mitchell as DIANA
    Billy Burke as DAVID WATSON
    Selma Blair as KATHRYN
    Alexa Davalos as CHLOE

    Rated R
    Studio: MGM

    Directed by: Robert Benton

The film “Feast of Love” examines the different stages of love in different relationships. It’s an ensemble piece with an older married couple as the anchor characters. They watch several relationships take seed, blossom, and then go on to thrive or wilt as time goes on.

The characters approach love in many of its iterations. There’s a man whose wife turns to a lesbian affair. There’s a young couple so passionately in love that they face humiliation and danger together. There’s a woman who cannot resolve her own fidelity issues. And like love, the stories don’t always work out neatly or safely.

Let’s get through the obvious (and admittedly piggish) points first. There’s a lot of nudity in this film, and in general it’s pretty good. If you’ve ever been curious to see what Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair or Alexa Davalos look like naked, this is the film to check out. And, for the other side of the gender coin, there’s some tasteful and sensual male nudity in the movie as well. In fact, probably the only cast member who doesn’t disrobe in this film is Morgan Freeman, and that’s definitely a good thing. (No offense, Morgan, but I don’t think anyone’s surfing MrSkin.com for your screen captures.)

Normally, I wouldn’t point out the nudity in such a blatant way, but it comes not just from the side of me that wants to see these actresses in the buff. It actually speaks to a level of respect that the filmmakers had for this movie. They weren’t afraid to bare it all, which is often needed in the film. The nudity is not gratuitous but rather necessary to show the characters in their most vulnerable moments. And I respect the fact that they went down this road instead of shooting in shadow or with conveniently placed sheets.

“Feast of Love” is not my typical cup of tea, and if you pardon the pun, I really didn’t love it. But it was definitely an interesting movie that caught my attention more than I ever expected it would.

The DVD comes with a single special feature, which is an 11-minute look at the actors’ approach to the characters. Although the amount of features are slim, like the film itself, was of very good quality and more enjoyable to watch than I expected.



"2 DAYS IN PARIS"


        MOVIE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Julie Delpy as MARION
    Adam Goldberg as JACK
    Daniel Bruhl as LUKAS
    Marie Pillet as ANNA
    Albert Delpy as JEANNOT
    Aleksia Landeau as ROSE

    Rated R
    Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films

    Directed by: Julie Delpy

I can’t say that I liked “2 Days in Paris,” but at the very least I can say that I respected it a bit. The film is directed by actress Julie Delpy, and in many ways, it reeks of a first-time director... even though she’s directed before in the past. However, the level of pretension, political ignorance and self-retrospect makes it too heavy to really enjoy.

The story follows a multinational couple in Paris for a few days. Marion (Delpy) grew up in Paris and is welcoming a trip home. Her boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg) is liberal American through-and-through, and while he adores the European intellectualism, he’s not quite fitting into the Paris scene. As they deal with Marion’s parents, friends and ex-boyfriends, Jack begins to question their relationship.

Ultimately, Delpy makes mistakes in this film by providing unnecessary narration (a huge red flag of an inexperienced writer/director) and assumptions about the audience from politics to sexual awareness. While the film isn’t a political movie, the ultra-liberal bias waterlogs the picture.

For example, in one scene, Jack purposefully gives wrong directions to the Louvre to a tourist because she’s wearing a Bush/Cheney shirt and gabbing about “The Da Vinci Code” (which makes very little sense because I doubt even the most ardent Bush supporter is going to wear an out-of-date campaign shirt on a trip to Paris). The political relativism continues as Marion’s father routinely keys cars because he disagrees with their impact on the environment. All of this seems to be okay in Delpy’s mind because these people deserve less respect for their politics.

Yet when a cab driver makes some fascist remarks, her character blows up at him. I suppose Delpy thinks that political opinions should only be respected if she agrees with them.

The film continues to break down as the characters, well in their 30s, are unable to resolve even their most basic issues of trust and intimacy. Adam Goldberg is funny at times, but he channels Woody Allen too much and is to arrogant, confused and obnoxious to actually empathize with.

With all that said, I respect the fact that Delpy is making her own films in her own voice. It may not be intended for me as an audience, but she’s doing more with her career than simply fading into obscurity, and I can definitely respect that.

The DVD comes with several deleted scenes and an extensive (and sometimes a little too self-congratulatory) interview with Delpy about the making of the film.



"BLUE STATE"


        MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Breckin Meyer as JOHN
    Anna Paquin as CHLOE

    Rated R
    Studio: Fox

    Developed by: Marshall Lewy

Four years ago, during the election hubbub of 2004, Democrats and liberals around the country (including some loudmouth celebrities) declared they would move to Canada if George W. Bush was re-elected. Then a funny thing happened... Bush was re-elected.

Once people woke up on Wednesday morning in November and realized the “Dub-ya” was in the White House for four more years, no one followed through with these claims. The film “Blue State” looks at what might have happened to someone if they actually took the Canadian plunge.

Breckin Meyer plays a die-hard Democrat named John. When Bush wins, he hooks up with a site called MarryACanadian.com and takes a road trip up north to find a new life. To help share in the gas money and be a companion, he meets Chloe (Anna Paquin), who has secrets of her own. Along the way, they both discover why they want a new life and whether this is the best way to attain it.

With the exception of a few awkward scenes (in particular one in which John visits his parents and is berated by his father who literally talks like he’s taking calls on an AM talk show), the politics are simply there to characterize John. The film remarkably avoids much the preachiness it is prone to, although it does ultimately succumb to it quite often.

Writer/director Marshall Lewy admits in his director’s commentary that the idea of the film was borne out of his work on the Kerry campaign and how upset he was after Bush was re-elected. He’s ridiculously out of touch with half of the population, unable to see the non-liberal Democrat point of view, and that turns out to be his biggest obstacle in the movie.

But politics aside, it’s a journey of discovery for both John and Chloe. Their characters aren’t exactly terribly interesting, mature or even very smart. However, if you take it from the perspective of a boy and a girl reconciling their place in a world that they don’t particularly like, it can work.

The DVD comes with only the director’s commentary, which is going to be more palatable for the blue-state liberal rather than a general red-state guy like myself.



"THE RICHES: SEAON 1"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Eddie Izzard as WAYNE MALLOY
    Minnie Driver as DAHLIA MALLOY
    Shannon Marie Woodward as DI DI MALLOY
    Noel Fisher as CAEL MALLOY
    Aidan Mitchell as SAM MALLOY
    Todd Stashwick as DALE MALLOY

    Studio: FX

    Created by: Dmitry Lipkin

Do you remember that famous cliche from movies where someone describes a plan, and someone else says, “That’s so crazy, it just might work.” Well, I kind of feel that way about the FX television series “The Riches.” It’s such a crazy premise, it just might work.

“The Riches” follows the Malloys, a family of Irish Travelers (more popularly known as gypsies) who live off the grid in the American South. Wayne (Eddie Izzard) is the father, who has been keeping the kids afloat while his wife Dahlia (Minnie Driver) is in prison. After she gets out on parole, the family returns to the Travelers’ camp to find themselves in a family scuffle. To protect the kids and his wife, Wayne stalls the family bank and goes on the run.

While running, they are involved in a car crash that kills a husband and wife. The Malloys soon discover that this couple was moving to a big house in a swanky new neighborhood. Seeing the opportunity, the Malloys double as the Riches and actually steal their life... until their former life starts to seek them out.

Like I said, it’s such a crazy premise that it just might work. The most surprising thing about “The Riches” is that the series actually works. Much of this can be credited to the actors, who bring a level of humanity to the characters. I found myself liking them, even though they live a life of crime.

The show is at its strongest when the Malloys are successfully inserting themselves into this stolen life. The screwball moments, such as when Wayne manages to win legal cases with his wits in the guise of Doug Rich, don’t hold up as well.

I only felt the series would break down when the family becomes its own worst enemy. Too often they give into tradition and feel tied to their family back home that they robbed and fled. Ultimately though, the show offers a unique perspective on the American dream, and it makes some really deft observations about our society and its worship of material possessions.

The DVD comes with audio commentary on selected episodes featuring Eddie Izzard and creator Dmitry Lipkin. There’s also a gag reel and two Fox Movie Channel featurettes. However, the gem of the special features are seven webisodes that show Wayne and the kids teaching each other classic con games.

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