Carriers may actually get released

My cousin Lou’s latest movie in post hell is Carriers, with Piper Perabo. A horror movie directed by the Pastor brothers, the title tells it all- after an apocalyptic virus pandemic, a group of friends find out why they ain’t dead yet: they’re carriers! It’s been held up for four years, and looks like it may be going straight to DVD. I’ll see it of course, it’s too bad it didn’t make it to theaters. If stuff like The Haunting in Connecticut (full review of that turd) can get its weekend in the sun of naive teenager money, a post-apocalyptic horror flick sure should.

Bloody Disgusting has some more news. I miss the days of tasteless filmmaking when this would’ve been released during the height of the swine flu panic. I found out about it over at Tractor Facts where they were goofing on the poster, which looks like some sort of zombie softporn:

The Answer Man – Sneak Preview

Last night I got to see a screening of The Answer Man starring Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham and Lou Taylor Pucci at a meeting of the Film Symposium. This enjoyable movie about a curmudgeonly reclusive author of a best-selling spiritual self-help book premiered at Sundance under the less appealing title of Arlen Faber, the name of the author, played by Jeff Daniels. The new title suits the film better. It’s the first feature by writer-director John Hindman, and what a first film it is.
Arlen Faber is the author of “Me and God,” a book in which he asked God many questions during a troubled time in his life and recorded the answers. But he never appeared publicly, and as the book skyrocketed through the charts and became part of popular culture 20 years ago, his silence and reclusiveness only made him more of an epic figure. Part Kahlil Ghibran, part J.D. Salinger, his book became a cottage industry while he was never heard from again. Now it is 20 years later, and his agent wants him to write a foreward for the anniversary edition.

Our introduction to Arlen is perfect. We see a collage of book covers, articles, magazines, and newspapers detailing the backstory while “Mr. Pitiful” by Matt Costa plays. The legend of Arlen Faber is built, and comes crashing down with feet of clay as the mailman rings the doorbell insistently. We immediately know that “the answer man” has his own problems, and holing up in his apartment and ignoring his legions of fans is not a symptom of enlightenment or genius. It’s such a great scene that I’m not going to ruin it for you.

The author hides in a tony Philly neighborhood where Elizabeth (Lauren Graham, “The Gilmore Girls”) has opened her chiropractor’s office, and fresh outta rehab Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci, Thumbsucker) runs a floundering bookstore. After Arlen throws his back out- and is such an ass to his agent that she leaves him writhing in pain- he is forced to crawl to Elizabeth’s office. She works her healing touch on him, and her charms affect him as well. He has a reason to leave the house and seek human contact.

His enormous collection of self-help and spiritual books makes him collide with Kris, who doesn’t want them, but Arlen refuses to take no for an answer. Eventually they find common needs and work out a bargain- Kris will get advice, but only if he takes books. Kris needs advice; his father is supportive but a devout alcoholic. Elizabeth has her own issues, but doesn’t ask Arlen for help. He tells her who he is, but she’s never read his book. She’s so overprotective of her 7-year old son Alex that he wears a 5-point racing harness in her enormous Volvo wagon and must subside on a vegan diet. As soon as he’s out of the car, she inhales a cigarette.

Arlen begins to lose his writer’s block and burst forth with epiphanies that put his new friends at ease. But they feel like empty platitudes to us. And the movie knows it, which is what makes it deviate from what we expect in a feel-good movie of this type. Arlen’s selfishness is just one obstacle. He’s a funny bastard, but he is a bastard. But when he’s good, he is good. He spends a lot of time with Alex, who is having trouble at school, and his scene with the teacher is a classic. He says what we’d all say if we weren’t programmed not to. We’ve bought in, and challenging our expectations is frightening. Not to Arlen. He has nothing to lose, and that freedom is only one aspect of his character. When we learn the root of his reclusion and misanthropy, it isn’t a plot device, but makes us think perhaps we could all speak to God, like he supposedly did.

Arlen, Kris and Elizabeth may not solve all their problems in this movie, but they identify them, the first and often hardest step. Their small discoveries are believable and feel right. The movie does have a flaw or two- it ends a bit abruptly, but in retrospect perhaps that is the right way. We saw three people crawl out into the daylight, three characters we enjoyed spending time with: sarcastic, wounded Kris, who manages to slog on despite massive challenges; Liz who wants to protect Alex, whose father abandoned them, from any future pain; and Arlen himself, who touched the lives of millions of strangers but can’t do it on a personal level.

Jeff Daniels has done comedy, and drama such as the excellent The Squid and the Whale; now he proves that he can do both. Lauren Graham channels Amy Adams a bit, but makes Elizabeth her own. And Lou Taylor Pucci plays something completely new from his career of innocent young men coming of age, such as in Thumbsucker and The Go-Getter, or the abused victims in Personal Velocity and Empire Falls. Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and Kat Denning (The 40-Year Old Virgin) have smaller roles that work perfectly, and Tony Hale (Buster from Arrested Development) is utterly hilarious as the persistent postman. And Max Antisell, playing young Alex in his first screen role, is what a child actor should be- utterly believable.
The movie has been compared to As Good As It Gets for its portrayal of a lovable bastard who collides with other damaged people who find that they might not be able to fix themselves, but may be able to patch each other up a little. I found The Answer Man to be more realistic and a bit more cynical, in a good way. There are no magic cures, and love isn’t going to cure your OCD overnight. “As Good” is very enjoyable, but you can see its slip showing a lot as it dances around the room. Answer Man does have any clear answers, and it knows it; it isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t bullshit you. After all, it’s about a bullshitter, and you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. That’s what made it work for me. It didn’t have scorn or sneers for any belief, but made it clear that if some “made up” philosophy or insights gets you through the night, that isn’t harmful in itself. The divine springs from within, when someone genuinely wants to help someone else. That’s what I got from it. Maybe I should write a book.

The Answer Man opens in limited release on July 24th; it is still listed on IMDb under it’s Sundance title of Arlen Faber, which has wisely been altered. This is one of the best movies to come out of Sundance recently, because it doesn’t feel like a Sundance film. I laughed a hell of a lot, and I was impressed with this movie throughout. Go see it this summer, you won’t regret it.

Lou Taylor Pucci was interviewed after the film, and spoke about the difficulties of method acting- Jeff Daniels was very in-character, and they only briefly connected because they both own RV’s. Lou himself finds becoming a character difficult himself- he had 5 roles in 6 months last year, and said it was tough remembering his own personal likes and dislikes, after running the gamut. It reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Who Am I This Time?” Lou grew up in Keansburg, New Jersey, not far from where the screening took place. To keep things honest, Lou is my cousin, but I try to be as objective as possible. For example, I wouldn’t give a good review to the abysmal 50 Pills– which even he’ll tell you to avoid.

Giving my cousin the finger. Gotta keep ’em humble.

Lou’s starred in many independent films such as The Go-Getter (full review), Thumbsucker (for which he won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival), The Chumscrubber, Fast Food Nation, Southland Tales, Personal Velocity and in HBO’s Empire Falls. This looks to be a breakout year with the release of The Answer Man, and four other films- The Horsemen with Dennis Quaid, Bret Easton Ellis’s The Informers, David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and the virus thriller Carriers, that was seeking distribution but will probably come out now in the wake of swine flu, but it probably just missed that boat.

Cable Quickies: The Go-Getter

Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, Corn Mo and a road trip across the desert West as a manboy searches for his older half-brother. You could call this Garden State hits the road, at a cursory glance, but it’s better than that. Director Martin Hynes puts together a personal and touching coming of age story about a young guy named Mercer dealing with a family tragedy by stealing a car and setting out to find the only family he has left.
Along the way he makes deeper connections, as the owner of the car (Zooey) calls him on her cell phone. She knows him somehow, and their conversations, and her Western audiobook, serve as narration as Mercer tracks down his brother Arlen through the wreckage left in his wake. It’s like Arlen grew up in ’90s indie films, and we stop at grunge art communes, pornographers, a band that includes accordionaire John “Corn Mo” Cunningham. Mercer gets taken in by a siren named Julie who wants to make him a man in the cliche fashion, while distracting him from his quest.

Mercer’s dreams play like home movies and meld with the story, as the audiobook plays with his head on the long desert stretches. He finds himself indebted to an unlikely cowboy (Bill Duke, Mac from Predator) who teaches him how to stand up. It manages to avoid many of the indie cliches despite being a coming of age road movie, the oldest in the book. It’s a testament to Pucci and Deschanel’s talents that the movie is so appealing, though Hynes does keep us guessing on where the road will take us. Oh, he makes a few nods to classics like Band of Outsiders, but it is remarkably unindulgent for a movie of its kind. Maybe that’s damning with faint praise, but I usually hate movies like this.

In the interest of honesty, Lou Taylor is my cousin, but I try to be even-handed. This is a hugr improvement over the disastrous 50 Pills, and while I liked the insanity of Southland Tales, I’ll be the first to say that it’s more of a prank than a movie. The Go-Getter is on the right track; I didn’t enjoy it as much as the excellent Thumbsucker, but it’s a good movie, better on this second viewing. It’s contemplative and requires your attention. It’s playing on Showtime this month and worth your Tivo space.

Rating: Worthy

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Lou Taylor Pucci on skinemax

Lou Taylor Pucci was one of the judges for the Sundance festival for the Short Film category, and between shows Cinemax is showing an entertaining bumper with him. He’s narrating the upcoming film Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Collider has a video interview with him regarding that film as well. Lou is probably best known for starring in Thumbsucker, my favorite of the Garden State-alike indies (including Garden State itself) and he’s had smaller, but very memorable parts in Southland Tales, Fast Food Nation, Personal Velocity, The Chumscrubber, and Fanboys (full review). He’ll also be in the Dennis Quaid thriller The Horsemen and Bret Easton Ellis’s The Informers this year.

Why the plug? Lou’s my cousin, and honestly, a fine young actor- notice I plugged the movies of his I like, and I’ll warn you off 50 Pills which even he hates- it got mangled in editing. I’m going to give The Go-Getter another shot before reviewing it here, as the first time around I wasn’t that thrilled with it. But give Thumbsucker a shot- it’s a great little movie, and he holds his own against Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio and Vince Vaughn, which is saying something.

Big Bald Black Dudes I admire- 2009 update

As you know (or you should) every Black History Month, I take a moment to reflect on the Big Bald Black Dudes I admire. Perhaps it was growing up in the ’70s with Gordon on Sesame Street, or my favorite movies including The Thing with Keith David, but big bald black dudes are just the baddest asses in cinema, in my not so humble opinion.

Last year I dubbed Keith David, Ving Rhames, Scatman Crothers, Delroy Lindo, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. in my annual post, where I also made the audacious claim that Stephen King has never met a black person, so this year I came up with a few new nominees for the halls of badassery.

1. Bill Duke
Best known as Mac from Predator, Bill’s been a bad-ass for ages. I first remember him as a bad guy in Commando, where he tells Matrix he’s a Green Beret. Unfortunately, John Matrix eats Green Berets for breakfast and shits toy soldiers, so he gets impaled on a table leg. But not before he trashes the hotel room with Arnie in such a brutal fashion that Rae Dawn Chong is made to exclaim, “you guys eat too much red meat!”

Of course, there’s no such thing as too much red meat, and Bill Duke can probably eat the ass off a brontosaur and ask for seconds. Even though the Predator freaks him out so bad that he sings “Long Tall Sally” in a falsetto, Mac is one of the classic movie bad-asses. My cousin Lou Taylor Pucci got the honor of starring with him in a movie called The Go-Getter, and for that I’m more envious than when he got to touch Kelli Garner’s tit in Thumbsucker. Bill Duke’s given us memorable performances in Menace II Society “you know you done fucked up right?” and The Limey, and I’m hoping someday he’ll get to play a frog.

2. Charles Dutton
Best known as the star of “Roc” in the early ’90s, Charles Dutton has clobbered xenomorphs in Alien3, and gigantic mutant flying cockroaches in Mimic. He’s one of the few redeemable qualities of the “scripted by comittee” shitfest that is the second Alien sequel, that even David Fincher could barely save. Seeing him swing Sigurney Weaver around by the neck, you wonder why they bother trying to trap the alien, when it’s obvious that Dutton could just grab it by it’s li’l mouth and force it to perform oral sex on him, after which it would just kill itself in shame.

3. Samuel L. (the L. stands for le motherfuckin’) Jackson
Last time I disqualified Mr. Jackson because his best bad-ass role- Jules from Pulp Fiction – was performed with the assistance of hair. However, since then Sam has been shorn, and given us the baddest, baldest motherfuckin’ Jedi (despite the festive purple lightsaber), a bald Son of Shaft, a bald Nick Fury, and a mostly bald bad-ass bluesman in Black Snake Moan. So I’m going to induct him into the Big Bald Black Men Hall of Fame. He’s earned his due.

4. Isaac Hayes
(pre-Adventure Club)
Before he got suckered into thinking our souls were H-bombed in volcanoes billions of years ago, Isaac Hayes was a groundbreaking musician and one of the biggest bald black bad-asses around. to mourn the passing of his reason that happened so many years prior to his death, I would like to posthumously induct him in. The evidence: The Duke of New York, A number One, from Escape from New York. He gave super bad-ass Snake Plissken a run for his money, and that’s saying a lot. He was also the star of Truck Turner. This was after writing the amazing score to Shaft and composing great soul albums like Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses. He also served as Chef for many years before his handlers got to him, obviously in a time of weakness, since he passed on not long after. We forgive you Isaac. Rest in peace.

Note: Tony “Candyman” Todd
Last year I got flack for not including Tony Todd. Well, I finally watched Candyman, and I will concur that Tony Todd is a fucking bad-ass. However, it must be noted that he is not bald. He would be even more bad-ass if he’d been bald, with some crazy facial hair, maybe shaped like a hook. Todd’s also been in the Final Destination movies, Platoon, and The Crow, so he’s a shoo-in for badassery. If only he’d take a Wahl clipper and polish up his noggin, he could join the club.

That’s all until next year, where it will get even harder to find nominees for this post. I might even have to include Elmo:

Fanboys

We all know one. You might even be one. The fanboy: the person who doesn’t just like something, but goes that extra parsec and lives it. We’ve all seen the Star Wars fans who waited in line for days to catch the midnight premieres, dressed in costumes, living in tents. This is a story about guys even crazier than that, who want to go to George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch and steal the print, so their dying buddy can see it before he goes to a galaxy far, far away. Whether you are a fanboy, know one, or just like making fun of them, Fanboys is pretty entertaining just as a buddy road trip movie- the nerd stuff is just gravy.
The saga begins in ’98, a few months before the new Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace, is to be released. Three nerd buddies show up at a Halloween party dressed as Darth Vader and two stormtroopers, like they do every year. When you spend that kind of time and money on a costume, you need to get some mileage out of it. They are Hutch (Dan Fogler, Balls of Fury) who has the Shag Van and lives in his mom’s garage- I mean Carriage House; Windows who runs the town comic book shop (Jay Baruchel, who seems to have parlayed his ability to mimic Chewbacca in Knocked Up into this bigger role), and Linus, who’s got terminal cancer, but hasn’t lost his hair yet. They’re having fun until Linus sees Eric- his old high school buddy who was gonna draw comic books with him until reality dragged him away to Dad’s car dealership.
Eric misses his pals, and seeing them again makes him dread the daily drudgery and his douchey older brother at the dealership even more than usual. So when he hears of Hutch and Windows’ idiotic plan to raid Skywalker Ranch and snag a workprint of the new Star Wars film so Linus can see it before he dies, Eric is lured to the dark side. Windows is cybering with a “girl” in a chatroom who has a contact inside the ranch, so they hatch a plan to sneak in and grab the film. Remember this is ’98, he’s constantly lugging an old Toughbook and looking for phone jacks.

Once they hit the road the laughs are pretty solid, whether it’s Hutch’s Millennium Falconesque ’70s shag-van, their continual war on Trekkies, or the acerbic comments of Zoe (Kristen Bell, “Gossip Girl,” Spartan) the clerk at Windows’ comic book store. She’s the spunky Leia of the film, gone brunette and feisty. Together the gang has solid comic energy between her sharp tongue, Hutch’s perversity, Windows exasperated haplessness, and Eric and Linus as the straight men. Their adventures lead them to a hilarious clash with Jabba the Hutt (Harry Knowles, impersonated perfectly by Ethan Suplee of “My Name is Earl”), a hive of scum and villainy led by Danny Trejo, and a band of Trekkies led by Seth Rogen in one of his more self-effacing roles.
They use their cameos wisely, and don’t lay on the in-jokes too thick- there’s plenty to laugh at if you’re only peripherally aware of Star Wars. I saw it after a foray into NYC Comicon, and the theater was only a few blocks away, so the audience was full of folks who saw a lot of themselves up on the screen. And we all loved it. Just don’t go in expecting a classic- this is somewhere in the big spread between Detroit Rock City and Role Models, and the humor is similar to both. If you’ve been following the sordid tale of the movie’s attempts at re-cutting by the Weinsteins, be assured that this is no Lucas puff piece, and while we never get to see what the fanboys think of The Phantom Menace, they do ponder, “What if it sucks?” But they recall the new hope and anticipation we all had for it, and made a good comedy about it.

3.5 neckbeards out of 5

Paul Newman R.I.P.

His last film role.

We lost one of the greats this weekend. Not just a great actor, but a great human being. Paul Newman, that tall angular leading man of the ice blue eyes and scrappy attitude, passed into the great beyond this weekend, at age 83. He had cancer in his last years but you probably didn’t know; he fought it with quiet dignity, and didn’t become infused with a sudden need to raise money and awareness of a disease he was dying of. Besides, he already donated $250 million to charity through his “Newman’s Own” products- which started as a lark and became a household name. And damn, Paw Newman makes some good cookies.
My cousin Lou Taylor Pucci got to ride in Mr. Newman’s private jet when they were filming one of his last projects, Empire Falls. It was a two-part HBO miniseries based on Richard Russo’s novel about a dying New England town. Lou played a teen kicked around by shitty parents and school bullies; Newman was a shiftless old moocher, and played the part with gusto. The part had shades of an early famous role as Hud, the amoral prodigal son, all growed up; it was original enough that we weren’t sure if we liked it, because he hit the truth about absentee, self-absorbed family men. You want to like them, but it’s like hugging a porcupine.

Holding his own against force of nature Jackie Gleason

Newman may have played heroic rebels as in my favorite film of his, Cool Hand Luke, but he made his bones playing tragically flawed men. Eddie from The Hustler, who never knew when to quit; Sully in Nobody’s Fool, who was anything but; Brick from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, living in Big Daddy’s shadow; the fearsome Judge Roy Bean. Then there were the anti-heroes with that sly grin of his, such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or the grifter in The Sting. Or his breakout role as Rocky Graziano in the boxing classic Somebody Up There Likes Me. Somebody sure did, and he turned those steely good looks into a serious acting career after being dismissed as another pretty face at first.

He had a sense of humor about himself too.

One of his great later roles as the washed-up lawyer in The Verdict will be on Cinemax this week. And Turner Classic Movies is certain to do a retrospective, if you need some catching up. As for me, I’m glad the race-car obsessed fellow got his last memorable role as a voice in Cars, a fitting end. Kids’ll recognize Doc’s voice in an old b/w film and perhaps give it a try sometime. And they’ll become acquainted with unforgettable characters like Luke, or Butch Cassidy. Rest in peace, Paul. I’ve got some dressing of yours in the fridge, maybe I’ll have some salad and hard-boiled eggs tonight while I watch you sing “Plastic Jesus” in Cool Hand Luke.