Friday, March 20, 2009

Preview review

In which I go see stuff so you don't have to, or provide my two cents in case you might want to.

"The Great Buck Howard"

We had it at the Chicago International Film Festival last October (I say "we" as a former associate director and longtime member of Cinema/Chicago, which puts on the festival), but I missed it then, and it's finally getting a national release this week. It's not going to change your life but enjoyable enough and worth seeing. On cable.

John Malkovich plays the titular has-been mentalist working on the fringes of show business, Colin Hanks is the frustrated law student who quits school to work as his assistant, and some familiar faces pop up in smaller roles: comedian Dave Attell, author Jonathan Ames, magician Ricky Jay, real-life Buck Howard Don né Donny Most, "Larry Sanders" alumnus Wallace Langham, and Patrick Fischler, who plays fast-talking comedian Jimmy Barrett on "Mad Men" and looks like a Depression-era Brooklyn Dodger.

The movie is a sentimental homage to The Amazing Kreskin, but it's really the assistant's story as the kid gradually finds a direction in life while toiling in the hustings for a slightly famous oddball. As the quirky vehicle for the sidekick's self-discovery, Malkovich rarely gets to unleash his inner Malkovich, which is too bad; he's good as an old lion, but better when he hasn't been defanged. The overall message, meanwhile, is positive -- be true to yourself, etc. -- but one we've seen a thousand times before.

When you see a Playtone logo in the opening credits of a movie, and it rings a bell because it's Tom Hanks' production company, then Tom Hanks himself turns up as the father of his real-life son, it's not hard to figure out how Colin Hanks landed the lead role. Not only is it good to be the king, it's good to be the prince.

Hanks fils is pleasant enough, but boy is he dull. I did more acting sitting in my seat than he did in two hours of screen time. In fairness, his was the Nick Carraway role, the quiet observer of a grandiose personality, but still, it kind of made me wonder whether he'd rather be in law school.

"I Love You, Man"

Ed. note: I'm running out of time before my morning train, so in deference to my literally tens of readers, I'll just post the Malkovich item for now, and write up the Paul Rudd vehicle soon. Quite a professional newspaper arts section we're running here, eh?

1 comment:

mac said...

Hi Ben,
I like the way you comment on films, I'm forwarding your site to some friends.