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Mini Reviews (October & November 2005)

Just a Little Harmless Sex, Postal Worker, Walking on the Sky, Dog Gone Love, The Last Horror Movie, That Championship Season, School of Life, Doom, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, The I Inside

Just a Little Harmless Sex (October 4/05)

Inoffensive yet entertaining, Just a Little Harmless Sex follows six characters - three men, three women - over the course of one unusually eventful evening. We meet: Laura (Alison Eastwood), who's just broken up with Alan (Robert Mailhouse) after learning he engaged in inappropriate shenanigans with a prostitute; Alan's best friends, Brent (William Ragsdale) and Danny (Jonathan Silverman), the latter of whom is still smarting over his breakup with Terianne (Jessica Lundy); and Alison (Kimberly Williams), a tomboy who's looking to shed her boyish image. Just a Little Harmless Sex has been written by Roger Mills and Marti Noxon, and though the two prove to be comedically inept (ie after Laura learns that Alan was with a hooker, there's a quick cut to a sausage being chopped up), their screenplay is generally peppered with enough twists and revelations (and even a few relationship truths) that go a long way towards keeping things interesting. The performances are uniformly superb, with Silverman and Williams the obvious standouts here. But the overlong running time and a feeling of familiarity prevents Just a Little Harmless Sex from becoming anything more than a pleasant time-killer.

out of

Postal Worker (October 4/05)

Postal Worker is an astoundingly terrible, utterly interminable so-called comedy that by all rights should have been buried, but seems to have resurfaced thanks to star Brad Garrett's stint on the now-defunct show Everybody Loves Raymond. Garrett plays Oren Starks, a seriously disturbed postal worker whose grasp on reality is tenuous (at best). All his co-workers avoid him and he doesn't even seem to be an adept worker (he avoids delivering mail to one house because there's a lawn mower in plan sight), but this doesn't stop Oren from pursuing the beautiful Tammy (Grace Cavanaugh). Postal Worker's been written and directed by Jeffrey F. Jackson, a truly inept filmmaker who imbues the movie with a weird, thoroughly unpleasant tone - eschewing any sense of realism in favor of unbelievably lame instances of comedy. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if any of this were even remotely funny, but that's simply not the case. To be fair, there is one mildly humorous bit wherein Oren is handed a bottle and told that every employee is to give a urine sample - to which he replies, "you want me to get every employee's urine in this bottle?" The rest of Postal Worker, however, is a complete waste of time and it's impossible not to wonder how this movie ever got financed.

no stars out of

Walking on the Sky (October 5/05)

It's almost impossible to discuss Walking on the Sky without immediately drawing comparisons to The Big Chill, as both films revolve around a group of disparate friends who come together after the suicide of one of their own. Though The Big Chill remains the better film, writer/director/star Carl T. Evans imbues Walking on the Sky with a sincere, earnest vibe that carries the movie through some of its more underwhelming sequences. It certainly doesn't hurt that the film is extremely well acted, with stellar performances from each of the mostly unknown cast members (Randall Batinkoff is the only recognizable face here, thanks to his appearance in a lousy Molly Ringwald vehicle in the '80s). Evans' dialogue is generally effective, although it occasionally comes off as forced rather than authentic (some of this stuff is just a little too on the nose and melodramatic). Nevertheless, Walking on the Sky is a fine first effort and a positive showcase for a troupe of unknown-but-talented performers.

out of

Dog Gone Love (October 6/05)

Featuring an extremely predictable, overly familiar storyline, Dog Gone Love is essentially a prototypical romantic comedy - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Though it's highly unlikely to win over detractors of the genre, the movie is elevated by a pair of thoroughly engaging lead performances and a script that's occasionally quite funny. Lindsay Sloane stars as Rebecca, a veterinarian who finds herself falling for struggling author Steven Merritt (Alexander Chaplin). The only problem is that Rebecca thinks that Steven is gay, an assumption that Steven doesn't correct because he wants to use their relationship as fodder for his latest book. Director Rob Lundsgaard imbues Dog Gone Love with a light-hearted, poppy sort of vibe that effectively matches the material, which often has a tendency to resemble a sitcom (complete with wacky misunderstandings). The inclusion of some weirdly melodramatic plot developments towards the end doesn't really help matters, while Rebecca's discovery of Steven's ruse comes much sooner than one might like. Still, it's relatively easy to overlook the film's deficiencies thanks to a genuine sense of chemistry between Chaplin and Sloane.

out of

The Last Horror Movie (October 8/05)

While The Last Horror Movie is initially able to hold the viewer's interest thanks to an admittedly dynamite premise, the film soon becomes interminable and dull once the novelty wears off. Opening with a scene straight out of a slasher handbook - a waitress cleaning up after hours hears a strange noise and goes to investigate - the movie is abruptly interrupted by a man talking directly to the viewer. Max (Kevin Howarth), a sociopath who claims to have killed over 50 people, has decided to record over the cheesy slasher flick with a day-to-day look at his murderous antics. The most obvious problem with The Last Horror Movie is its repetitive structure, which becomes tiresome almost immediately (Max kills someone, waxes philosophical on his existence, kills someone else, etc, etc). That the dialogue isn't terribly compelling certainly doesn't help, nor does the complete absence of a storyline. And though Howarth is actually quite effective in the central role, the supporting cast is populated almost exclusively by subpar performers (which makes it impossible to sympathize with most of Max's victims). Co-writer and director Julian Richards clearly has a flair for the genre and it's hard not to commend him for trying something different, but the bottom line is that The Last Horror Movie ultimately feels like a decent short unnaturally stretched out to a feature.

out of

That Championship Season (October 14/05)

Based on the play by Jason Miller, That Championship Season follows four high school buddies (played by Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach, Martin Sheen, and Paul Sorvino) and their former coach (Robert Mitchum) as they get together to celebrate the 24th anniversary of a pivotal basketball win. Revelations ensue, forcing the quartet to spend the night hashing things out and re-evaluating their lives. Although That Championship Season is extremely well acted - Keach, in particular, effectively sheds his tough-guy persona to become a guy that's basically a pushover - the movie's theatrical origins remain obvious throughout, both in the dialogue and direction. Filmmaker Miller imbues the movie with a slow-paced, expectedly talky sort of vibe, which admittedly suits the material but prevents the film from ever really taking off. While there are a few moments of authenticity here and there, That Championship Season - by and large - just isn't terribly compelling.

out of

School of Life (October 20/05)

School of Life actually premiered on an American cable network earlier this year, and is now receiving a theatrical release here in Canada (presumably in an effort to capitalize on Ryan Reynolds' burgeoning success). But it's clear almost immediately that there's a reason the movie went straight-to-TV south of the border; School of Life is a thoroughly inept, hopelessly cliched drama that fails to engage the viewer from the opening frames. The story revolves around competing teachers (Reynolds and David Paymer) who are vying for a coveted teacher-of-the-year award, with Paymer determined to snag the trophy in order to keep it in his family (his father won the prize a record 44 years in a row before passing away). While younger viewers will undoubtedly eat up Reynolds' antics with a spoon, the stale, predictable storyline - coupled with uniformly stock characters and an emphasis on lame comedy bits - ensures that everyone else will be bored to tears. Director William Dear infuses the movie with less style than a typical movie-of-the-week, while screenwriter Jonathan Kahn substitutes overt instances of sentimentality for anything even resembling authenticity and genuine emotion. In terms of the performances, Reynolds coasts on his ample charisma and Paymer does the best he can with the material (both actors deserve far, far better than this).

out of

Doom (October 20/05)

Given that there's never been a really good movie made out of a videogame, it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise to discover that Doom is nothing more than a thoroughly mediocre Aliens ripoff. The film follows several grizzled marines - including Sarge (The Rock) and John Grimm (Karl Urban) - as they arrive on Mars to investigate the strange happenings there, and it's not long before the soldiers find themselves under attack from a host of strange and unusual creatures. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak imbues Doom with the same sort of flashy camerawork that has become his trademark, though he takes things one step further by bathing the movie in almost ceaseless darkness. As a result, much of the film's action comes off as hopelessly incoherent - a problem that's exacerbated by the complete lack of actual characters (we instead are presented with tired stereotypes, including the jittery rookie, the jaded veteran, and the jive-talking black guy). And while the much-hyped first-person sequence towards the end isn't bad, it's certainly not enough to make one forget the relentless suckage that came before it.

out of

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (October 29/05)

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is a fascinating, thoroughly engaging documentary revolving around the now-defunct Z Channel and it's star programmer Jerry Harvey. Z Channel debuted in 1974 - long before HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, or any of the many movie channels - with a programming schedule consisting entirely of eclectic, forgotten, and critically acclaimed films (including works by Michael Cimino, Jean-Luc Godard, and various other masters of cinema). Harvey is credited with much of the channel's success, though - as the film informs us at the outset - his various mental problems eventually culminated with his own suicide (and the murder of his wife). Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession works as both a documentary of Harvey and Z Channel itself, and as a primer on some of the more noteworthy films of the '70s and early '80s. Director Xan Cassavetes blends interviews with clips - often devoting entire portions to specific films (including an intriguing look at the whole Heaven's Gate fiasco) - and although the filmmaker occasionally goes overboard with her the of stock footage, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is a highly effective documentary that doesn't shy away from some of the more difficult times in Harvey's life. And if nothing else, the movie's worth checking out for the surfeit of intriguing rental ideas - including obscure titles such as Henry Jaglom's A Safe Place and Robert Altman's Images.

out of

The I Inside (November 4/05)

The I Inside casts Ryan Phillippe as Simon Cable, the victim of some kind of freak accident that has left him with absolutely no memory of the last two years of his life. As such, he is unable to recognize his wife (Piper Perabo) or his mistress (Sarah Polley) - although, thanks to a newfound ability to move through time, that's the least of his problems. Based on a play by co-screenwriter Michael Cooney, The I Inside is a talky, hopelessly convoluted would-be thriller that isn't even a little bit involving. The film's refusal to clear things up until the third act makes it impossible to connect with Simon's plight, despite Phillippe's relatively effective performance (the actor spends much of the running time freaking out, though he admittedly does it well). Director Roland Suso Richter attempts to liven things up with sporadically intriguing instances of style, complete with visual nods to Hitchcock and Kubrick, but the bottom line is that The I Inside is just unable to overcome its seriously confusing premise (the resolution is particularly disappointing, and doesn't even remotely justify everything that came before it).

out of

© David Nusair