Sword of Trust

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Independent filmmaker Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister) was no stranger to actor, writer, stand-up comedian and podcast host Marc Maron when she cast him in her new film Sword of Trust. She had already directed him in a few projects, including a couple of episodes of his namesake TV series Maron and his 2017 Netflix comedy special Marc Maron: Too Real. She was also a guest on his popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron two months prior from officially getting hired. It turned out to be the perfect choice to say the least.

Sword of Trust is a heavily improvised and sharply written dark dramedy that comes up short in the homestretch, but not before delivering a handful of funny and memorable moments. Maron stars as Mel, a pawn shop owner in Birmingham, Alabama, who makes a deal with some customers after they offer to sell him a peculiar relic. The “prover item,” as it’s referred to later in the film, is a sword said to be proof that the South won the Civil War. It has been bequeathed by a Confederate soldier to his granddaughter Cynthia (Jillian Bell).

Mel and his employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) think Cynthia and her wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) are a pair of kooks for the yarn they spin — the women don’t buy her grandfather’s story either but need to make the sale. However, a quick internet search reveals a fringe group of conspiracy theorists who would pay top dollar for the weapon. After locating a buyer, Mel and the ladies decide to team up and split the money. But when the potential customer insists that he meets the sellers, Mel, Nathaniel, Cynthia and Mary find themselves riding in the back of a moving truck to an undisclosed location to do business with a probable racist.

On its surface, Sword of Trust is a whip-smart comedy that pokes fun of people who believe the Earth is flat and the existence of a shadow U.S. government. While much of the snarky script is ad-libbed, Shelton and co-writer Michael O’Brien (TV’s A.P. Bio) create a structure for the narrative that is deeper and more meaningful than an average satire. The emotional load is lifted by Maron, who expresses some of the most heartfelt and natural dialogue in a movie this year with an anecdote concerning a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend (Shelton) and the life he watched pass him by years ago.

Shelton’s film might cover revisionist history, but it’s also about the struggle to believe in something — or someone — when conflicting evidence is too convincing to ignore. Still, in Sword of Trust, Maron shows audiences how a little faith can go a long way.

Enough Said

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)

Imagine going on a first date with someone who instantly provided you with a hard-copy list of his or her bad habits and personality deficiencies even before you touched the appetizer. How much time would you save—and how many subsequent dinners could you skip over—if you automatically knew things weren’t going to work out because the seemingly normal person sitting in front of you likes to attend smooth jazz concerts and doesn’t recycle?

In “Enough Said,” a sharply written and moving romantic dramedy from director/writer Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”), the question is dangled in front of Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a single mom and massage therapist, who unknowingly becomes friends with the ex-wife of her new boyfriend Albert (James Gandolfini, in his first film released posthumously before the crime drama “Animal Rescue” premieres in 2014). When Eva begins to take full advantage of the situation by asking Marianne (Catherine Keener) about her failed marriage, her curious nature and lack of moral judgment backfires as she uses the information she receives to expect the worst from Albert without giving him much of a sporting chance.

Ironically, the familiar set-up sounds like something Elaine and Jerry would debate in an episode of “Seinfeld” (wouldn’t you want to know your date was a Nazi from the get-go?), so having Louis-Dreyfus at the center of the narrative feels almost natural even though her iconic Elaine character is nowhere to be seen. What we find instead is an emotionally complicated woman who digs herself too deep into a lie she can’t crawl out of to make amends. With her well-known comedic background, Louis-Dreyfus rarely gets the opportunity to put her dramatic talent on display, so uncovering those little moments in Holofcener’s compassionate script is terrific.

Also showing his range is the late Gandolfini, whose soft-hearted and vulnerable approach to Albert is impressive. His shared scenes with Louis-Dreyfus highlight Holofcener’s craftsmanship as a screenwriter. The dialogue is effortless as we watch Eva and Albert (both divorced and preparing to experience empty-nest syndrome) maneuver through their dates like a veteran quarterback would a pre-season scrimmage. They’re not trying to impress each other, but they still want to perform well enough to stay in the game.

With a perfect combination of understated humor and unpretentious drama, “Enough Said” is a sweet and oftentimes sad portrait of two middle-aged souls searching for happiness and comfort the way people used to do it before technology took away the human aspect of interface. Plus, knowing we’ll never get to see Gandolfini in another touching role like this makes all the difference when the screen cuts to black.

The Back-Up Plan

April 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin, Michaela Watkins
Directed by: Alan Poul (debut)
Written by: Kate Angelo (debut)

If romantic comedies starring Jennifer Lopez are movies you actually find amusing (“The Wedding Planner,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Monster-in-Law”), then you’re probably programmed to eat up something as frothy as “The Back-Up Plan.” For those with a more discriminating taste, J-Lo’s latest only proves one thing: Lopez can definitely command a screen, but without any back-up from anyone in production, all that’s left is a predictable, poorly-written rom com with zero chemistry between the leads.

In the film, Lopez plays Zoe, a New York City pet store owner who wants nothing more than to have a baby. Single – and without any real suitors – Zoe decides the best way to get pregnant is to go through artificial insemination and raise a baby on her own. What would a cheesy mainstream romantic comedy be, however, if that’s all “The Back-Up Plan” intended to serve up?

The eye-rolling twist comes early when Zoe meets Stan (Alex O’Loughlin), the man of her dreams, on the same day she goes in for the medical procedure. The rest of the film is a cake walk. Zoe and Stan start their courtship and fall in love in standard two-day movie time when Stan invites to spend some time with him at his goat farm. Yes, his goat farm. Soon, Zoe must fess up and tell Stan that she’s has some baggage in the form of a bun in the oven. Will the news send Stan racing for the exit or is he in the relationship for the long haul?

Riddled with dreadfully cliché dialogue and some pregnancy jokes that are simply unfunny (Jo-Lo falls into a wading pool right after a woman has a water birth), “The Back-Up Plan” is an unrealistic look at love, the miracle of birth, or any of the other topics first-time screenwriter Kate Angelo lazily tries to pass off as entertainment.