Take a Trip to Wine Country with Miles and Jack in "Sideways"


Five years after his hit comedy "Election" Director Alexander Payne received massive critical acclaim, and his first Academy Award, for the 2004 film "Sideways".  A buddy comedy that takes you on an unforgettable ride through California wine country.

Paul Giamatti is perfectly cast as Miles an English teacher, struggling novelist, and wine aficionado.  His best friend Jack is played by Thomas Haden Church, a washed up actor who now mainly does voice over work.  His obnoxious personality and gregariousness are the perfect match to Miles depressive poor schlub attitude.  Jack is a week away from getting married so the guys plan a week long trip to Wine country.  Recently Miles has been extremely anxious as he's been waiting to hear back from his agent on whether or not his book will be published.  He is also still recovering from his divorce of two years ago. 

This movie is about romanticizing wine and peoples obsession with.  The film has actually been shown to have quite an impact on the wine sales and popularity especially for Miles love affair with the Pinot Noir.  Jack on the other hand is just along for the ride looking to hook up with a few more women before the big day.  The reason this is such a great film is that its well written, well acted and above all hits so many truthful beats.  The comedy comes organically from the characters and the situations they find themselves in.  Nothing feels forced and every emotion seems to flow and fit together perfectly.

Jack and Miles are the perfect odd couple even when they meet up with a couple of women from the area.  Miles has known Maya, played by Virginia Madsen, for a number of years but has never had the courage or availability to ask her out.  Jack gets know Stephanie, played by Sandra Oh, at one of the Vineyards who also happens to be friends with Maya.  The four of them eat and consume several bottles of wine that leads to two different kinds of relationships.  Although jack has not told Stephanie about his upcoming weekend plans, this is a problem he would like to ignore for the time being.  But just like an on coming train it will have be dealt with and soon.

Jack and Miles friendship is tested many times and none more so than the ending when Miles goes above and beyond the call of duty.  They do make it though the week and feel compelled to maybe improve their lives a little.  "Sideways" was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture but its only win was for Best Adapted Screenplay.  It was the most critically praised movie of 2004 sweeping up all the major critics awards.  It's definitely one to own and watch every once in a while for a feel good laugh.

"Election" Starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon


What's the difference between morals and ethics? This is the main theme of Alexander Payne's 1999 comedy starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.  Payne has built a reputation as one of the premier American directors working today.  His films are character driven comedies that are often painfully awkward and above all human and truthful.

Morals are defined as a person's standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.  While ethics are moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior.  Matthew Broderick who plays Jim McAllister a high school history teacher who is about to have his morals and ethics challenged by the overly ambitious Tracy Flick played by Reese Witherspoon.  Every school has a Tracy Flick, that feisty overachiever who knows how to get what they want and look good doing it.  The upcoming student body presidential campaign will be a fight for the ages and not for the faint of heart.  As with all politicians Tracey's morals and ethics are a bit questionable. Mr. McAllister's hatred of her grew out of an illicit affair that happen between Tracy and another teacher, Mr. Novotny.  The whole incident was kept relatively quiet, but Novotny was fired and his life was destroyed.  Initially Tracy was running unopposed but Mr. McAllister wanted to knock this uppity bitch down a peg so encourages football player Paul (Chris Klein) to challenge her.  Paul recently fractured his leg and is unable to play leaving him to wonder about his future.  Paul is a gentle and likable guy but a little dumb,  kind of the George W. Bush of the whole election group.    

The story gets even more involved as Paul's sister Tammy, who likes girls, has a falling out with her best girlfriend who then as an act of revenge starts to date Paul.  Fed up with all this Tammy decides to run for president too except as an anti-candidate who wants to abolish all high school government.  Mr. McAllister's boring home life is about to get a little more interesting as he contemplates moving in on Novotny's wife Linda.  McAllister's increasingly bad decision making leads to some painfully funny and awkward moments.

When election day finally arrives and things don't go as planned Mr. McAllister will do whatever it takes to crush the dreams of Tracy Flick.  Eventually he has to answer for his severe breach of political ethics and personal morality leaving him to re-evaluate his life and to finally move and to start over again.  

"Paper Man" is one to Save from the Recycle Bin

Paper Man

Released in 2010 "Paper Man" has the quintessential indie film elements that worked well for Sophia Coppola's "Lost in Translation".  It works as well thanks to the performance by Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Lisa Kudrow.

Jeff Daniels plays Richard Dunn a struggling writer (is there any other kind) who is determined to write a follow up novel to his not so successful first one.  To do this he takes up residence in a seaside cabin and tries to shut off everything else in his mind, his wife Claire (Kudrow), their friends and mostly his imaginary friend Captain Excellent, played by Ryan Reynolds.  Captain Excellent has been with Richard since he was a child, he wears blue tights, a red cape, and an unusually large codpiece.  The Captain is a rich stew of Richards fear, anxiety and neurosis.  A strongly held security blanket that has been with him far too long.

Richard ventures into the small resort town to clear his head and runs into a local high school girl named Abby played by Emma Stone in one of her first roles before making it big.  Even though Richard is alone in the cabin he hires her to babysit, while he goes out to drink. Upon his arrival back he finds she has made homemade soup, the key to any man's heart.  Their relationship is similar to that of Lost in Translation in that it is an older man and a younger woman in a completely non sexual relationship.  Their characters have this deep unspoken understanding of each other.  Both are at a crossroads in their life, a sort of limbo waiting for the next thing to come along.  Abby has a douche bag of a boyfriend that Richard disapproves of but doesn't want to intervene.  Abby also has a male best friend/stalker in Chris who is that painfully stereotypical guy who is stuck in the friend zone and pines for something more.  This creates a weird sort of dynamic around Abby and the three guys in her life. 

With some help Richard if forced to make some life decisions and opens up to his wife that in turn strengthens their waning marriage.  His seemingly eternal writers block is broke free with his friend and muse Abby and his ultimate dismissal of his need for Captain Excellent.

Jeff Daniels always brings it in whatever role he plays from "Dumb and Dumber" to "The Newsroom" and is one of the most underrated actors working today. As for Emma Stone she just owns her role as Abby with a no nonsense personality and a presence that jumps off the screen.  Its a good thing too because the plot in itself is pretty tired and worn out.  The filmmakers poor script was saved by all the actors involved.  "Paper Man" while starting a little slow really come into its own and makes it a worthy watch.  

See "Wetlands" with Popcorn, Pop & Purell


When it comes to the gross out comedy you might think of a couple of guys acting childish and stupid.  Maybe something from the Farrelly Brothers or the string of National Lampoon's movies from the 80s and 90s.  Each film seems to raise an imaginary bar as too who can be the absolute rudest and crudest.  It seems we have a new champion and HER name is Helen the star of the 2013 German comedy "Wetlands".  Of course when it comes to freakishly gross who else but the Germans to set a record pace.

Helen, played by Carla Juri, is an 18 year old disillusioned teenager who literally has no boundaries when it comes to personal hygiene and sexuality.  Raised by a very clean minded mother and an absent father, she finds personal rebellion in the nastiest sort of ways.  Her parents are now divorced but has never given up hope of them getting back together. During an unfortunate shaving accident, an anal fissure,  Helen it laid up in a hospital bed getting her ass operated on.  During this time we are treated to some flash backs and fantasies, some including her best friend Corrina, who is also a social outcast due to a chest pooping incident.  Helen develops a crush on her male nurse Robin who cautiously plays along with her twisted games.

No bodily fluid is left unexamined in this movie hence the name "Wetlands" from graphic depictions of blood (menstrual an otherwise), puke, semen, etc.  You get the picture, but what is this movie really about? Its a painfully honest and graphic portrait of getting to know who you are and not being afraid to let it out.  That no matter how hard your parents try they can't help but severely and constantly damage you as you grow up.  You become a product of your parent own worries and neurosis.  As you get older you rebel against anything that ties you to them to hopefully find the real you.  Desperate to get her parents back together she hatches a few plans but the hurdles keep piling up and her self destructive streak comes to a head and a repressed childhood memory finally comes to light that allows her to see her mother in whole new if not disturbing light.

Like most people her age Helen is a complex and unique person if not a bit crude and unfiltered.  She is not your stereo typical "girl"  she is a person stripped away of all proper societal bullshit and preconceptions.  She is a good person, a loving person, and above all a brutally honest person.  Obviously if your a germ phobic, clean freak, watching this movie will drive you straight to the asylum and a padded room.  But with all its cringe worthiness its still a good watch, don't miss it.

Wetlands - "Pink-Band" Trailer from Strand Releasing on Vimeo.

"Valerie and her Week of Wonders" is a Wondrous Experience

Valerie and her Week of Wonders

Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a coming of age film like no other.  This Czechoslovakian film from 1970 is a little know cult classic that was recently restored and released by The Criterion Collection.  Its a strange and surreal fairy tale that will keep your eyes glues to the screen for the entire 73 minutes.  The film is more of a painting or an experience rather than a traditional narrative story.  Rich with metaphor and symbolism its an art house film with a capital A.

Valerie is a young girl of about 13 or so whose transition into womanhood is a scary and dangerous proposition.  Her parents are dead and she lives with her grandmother, who may or may not be a vampire or a witch.  Valerie is friends with a local boy, Eaglet, whose father may or may not be a vampire or even the devil.  He is also known as the polecat, a weasel of a man who is always up to no good.  Throw in a sleazy lecherous priest and Valerie must defend her mind and body for what awaits her in adulthood.  Her bedroom however is a gleaming white sanctuary for which she is free and safe from the outside world.  While Valerie's grandmother fears of growing old she makes a deal with the polecat for everlasting youth, Valerie yearns for love, safety, and security.  She hopes this will come from Eaglet and a magic pair of pearl earrings.

Her journeys are like hallucinations charged with either sex or violence.  She sees a groups maidens bathing in the river, as well as men whipping themselves.  When the priest seemingly returns from the dead, Valerie is taken and burned at the stake

The imagery and cinematography of the film are simply amazing. The image of a blood stained daisy makes for the perfect cover art for the Criterion release.  The film takes on many fairy tales but would most resemble "Alice in Wonderland".  Its a truly unique vision for this girls very strange week of wonders.