Explicit Ills not illin’, Skin Deep is

Explicit Ills

This sprung onto the scene at the SxSW festival but didn’t pick up a distributor, and is now available on DVD. That’s odd for a film that ends up being poignantly about the state of health care for the working poor in America, one of the subjects in the news most lately. It doesn’t belabor us about the head with a hammer of its message, but instead paints a picture of a gentrifying neighborhood and introduces us to a handful of interesting characters. There’s a saintly young boy named Babo, played to perfection by Francisco Burgo, and his mother Rosario Dawson in an understated role; Lou Taylor Pucci, who seems to have bitten off more than he can chew with the side job he’s taken; Paul Dano (Eli from There Will Be Blood) as an unemployed actor relegated to playing a ninja at a kid’s birthday party; a teenage boy trying charmingly trying to get it on with a neighborhood girl, and Tariq Trotter of The Roots as a health food entrepreneur trying to open a store.
New writer-director Mark Webber has had small roles in many films before and makes a surprisingly mature debut here. The poor neighborhood is something he knows well; his single mother and himself were homeless in north Philly for some time and became the subject of a news show story. He presents with a naturalist style, letting his characters speak for themselves, and his Philly surroundings set the mood for a tableau that eventually evokes the deepest emotion. He makes us part of the neighborhood, and makes us care about the people in it. In the end, the story is about the community itself, and doesn’t end where you’d expect. It does have a few newbie mistakes, like the slow-mo dance intro to one character, and perhaps it is a little too removed at times, but this one’s worth seeing.

Rating: Tasty

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Skin Deep

Otherwise known as “that John Ritter movie with the glow in the dark condom lightsaber fight” that’s really all this has going for it. I like John Ritter, but he doesn’t work here in the Larry from “Three’s Company” role, as a Lothario with writer’s block porking every California girl who comes his way. The only memorable jokes are this forced one and when he makes it with a female bodybuilder, and says he feels like Mrs. Schwarzenegger. Late-career Blake Edwards penned and directed this one, and unlike the unfairly maligned A Fine Mess, it doesn’t hold up. Remember Ritter with Sling Blade, where he’s incredible.

Rating: Stinky

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