⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: R for violence and gore, language and sexuality.
A bromantic comedy with a sharp edge of melancholy, this indie casts Jack Black and James Marsden in the sort of parts they play frequently, then pushes them toward pathos.
Dan (Black) is a guy in his late 30s who never evolved far past the nerdish wallflower he was in high school. When he learns that Oliver, his class’ male belle of the ball, is working in L.A. as the sexy star of tanning-cream TV ads, he thinks he has found the ideal guest to make their 20-year class reunion a success. But when he travels across the country to befriend Oliver, the small-time actor’s West Coast bent toward sleeping around collides with the shy dork’s need for approval.
Against all odds they have a heteroflexual affair. Oliver is convinced the big get-together could be a blast. Dan is simultaneously thrilled and overwrought. What will happen if his wife (Kathryn Hahn) learns he was sleeping in the wrong bed? And what’s up with the sex advice his virginal son is getting from Oliver?
Marsden adds a druggie, bi-curious patina to his usual role as irresistible ladies’ man, while Black makes one of his laughable losers painfully forlorn. What Dan wants in his connection to the far-from-successful Oliver is acceptance rather than physical thrills. He’s hurt to tears as his actor friend gravitates to the in crowd. Oliver wants a sense of stardom that his weak Hollywood work can’t provide, plus a fling with almost everyone he knows.
The film is sharper in depicting their unease than in playing them for laughs. The acting standouts are in smaller roles, with Jeffrey Tambor as Dan’s square, sincere boss and Dermot Mulroney as himself, the sort of superstar whom Oliver dreams of connecting with.
THE DINKYTOWN UPRISING
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated • Theater: St. Anthony Main.
How did the simple prospect of a burger chain moving into a quaint university neighborhood turn into a five-week occupation by students and a clash with Minneapolis police? Timing was everything. It was the spring of 1970, when campuses nationwide erupted in protests over the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, and four kids were killed at Kent State.
Al Milgrom’s timing was perfect, too. Minnesota’s godfather of art cinema, now 92, stalked the scene with camera in hand as a ragtag company of activists and hippies defied court orders to establish a “People’s Hotel” in two buildings slated for demolition to make way for a Red Barn hamburger joint. Decades in the making, Milgrom’s documentary combines his dynamic footage with contemporary interviews to make a case for the broader significance of what might seem a mere footnote.
Mostly he succeeds. The vintage vignettes convey a parallel with the modern “Occupy” movement, as respectful young people in jeans and flannels deliver their anti-corporate, pro-grassroots message in a quintessential Minnesota way. Occasionally the film veers too far into boomer introspection, but viewers interested in Minnesota history will find plenty to love — including the irony that the one surviving Red Barn in Minneapolis is now a Vietnamese restaurant.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, violence, sexual situations.
A smart, touching, tragic, goofy and surprisingly captivating dramatic biography of Irish children’s rights activist Christina Noble. Writer/director Stephen Bradley effectively covers a big swath of material, from Noble’s hard-knocks childhood in Belfast to her long-running charitable work in Vietnam. Shuffling scenes from the recent and distant past, he keeps the story moving at a solid pace and pulls three fine performances by actresses playing her.
Beginning in painful want, little Christina charms crowds and collects coins as a self-assured young songstress (delightful Gloria Cramer Curtis). Grown to middle age (played by disarming, energetic Deirdre O’Kane), she is as addicted to helping youth as her father was drawn to drink. She emigrates to postwar Vietnam, moved to do whatever she can to benefit abandoned Asian street children. She joins the area’s largest orphanage, and the local bureaucrats are no more able to resist her charisma and winning way with arguments than is her old friend God, whom she often engages in respectful arguments, since he has so many other people to help. And frequently we revisit Ireland when she was a lovely lass (Sarah Greene) hiding from aggressive men, chasing romance and locating it with head-butting romantic collisions.
The film offers an advanced class on turning private principles into public policy. While it’s a bit heavy-handed here and there, when it ends one wants not just to applaud Noble personally but to sign on to her ongoing aid to needy children.C.C.
The Mafia Only Kills in Summer
⋆ out of four stars
Not rated; in Italian, subtitled.
If you love Roberto Benigni, you may enjoy this blend of farcical Italian criminal history and comic love story. But who loves Benigni? Well, maybe Pierfrancesco Diliberto, who directs, narrates and stars in this ridiculous tale. He plays a Palermo journalist following his hometown’s endless history of mob murders, while chasing the girl of his dreams. Diliberto is a pleasant enough screen presence, but his film is as appealing as last week’s pizza. C.C.