Please Give

June 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”)

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt take advantage of other people’s misfortune in “Please Give,” a cutting, character-driven indie comedy about self-image, guilt and mortality that matches wits with recent films including Adrienne Shelly’s “Waitress” and Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages.”

As owners of a high-end antique shop in New York City, married couple Kate (Keener) and Alex (Platt) have quite an eye for priceless old furniture, which they purchase for basement-low prices from the families of the recently deceased. Most people don’t want to worry about what to do with grandma’s armoire after she’s gone, so Kate and Alex, who certainly don’t reveal the actually value of the small treasures to the next of kin, scoop them up and make a pretty penny.

Their predatory approach to death isn’t limited to antiques. Kate and Alex are sort of waiting around for their stubborn, elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert) to kick the bucket so they can expand on their apartment. Andra’s granddaughters, the passive Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the all-too-blunt Mary (Amanda Peet), know the neighbors are restlessly waiting, which makes for the awkward friendship they share throughout the film.

Riddled with guilt about how they make their living, Kate tries to set her conscience at ease by giving money to the homeless people she sees on the street. Her charity is not met with support by her young daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), who isn’t happy her mother would rather give money to a stranger than buy her own insecure daughter the things she needs to feel better about herself (a $200 pair of designer jeans and pimple cream should do the trick).

While the narrative feels a bit forced at times, filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, who also made the small gems “Lovely & Amazing” and “Friends with Money,” develops the authenticity of the picture from the eccentric personalities she allows to share the screen. It’s through watching their gauche and sometimes irksome flaws clash together that makes “Please Give” such a delight.

Year One

June 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”)
Written by: Harold Ramis (“Analyze This”), Gene Stupnitsky (TV’s “The Office”), and Lee Eisenberg (TV’s “The Office”)

Just when you thought terrible comedic parodies were recently monopolized by the two-headed monster known in Hollywood as filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (“Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” etc.), director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) tosses his name into the mix for at least one satirical take on a genre that really hasn’t seen the light of day since Universal Pictures ruined “The Flintstones” with a pair of live-action duds.

Before that, prehistoric comedy was rocky at best with movies like 1981’s “Caveman” starring Beatle Ringo Starr and 1992’s “Encino Man” about a thawed-out Neanderthal who is taught how to party hard. Now we have “Year One,” a timeline-jumping spoof starring Jack Black (“Nacho Libre”) and Michael Cera (“Juno”) that feels 20 years too late and a handful of well-executed gags short of keeping anyone’s attention.

In the film, Black and Cera play Zed and Oh, two simpletons who are shunned by their tribe for their inadequate hunting and gathering skills. Tired of being ridiculed by the other tribesmen and rejected by the tribeswomen, Zed decides to take a bite out of a forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge. When the rest of the tribe finds out he has broken the law of the land, he is cast out of the village for fear that he is cursed.

With nothing to live for back at the village, Oh joins his hairy friend on a road trip by foot through undiscovered lands and time periods. During their adventure, the odd couple dive into the Old Testament where they meet Biblical characters such as Cain and Abel (Paul Rudd and David Cross in an unfunny exchange of sibling rivalry and violence) and even stop Abraham (Hank Azaria) from sacrificing his only son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA McLovin of “Superbad” fame). Later on, Abraham reveals he is the mastermind behind circumcision when he recommends to Zed and Oh that they should allow him to perform the surgery because “it’s going to be a really sleek look that’s going to catch on.”

The rest of the film follows our journeymen to the unholy city of Sodom (described here like a first century version of Las Vegas) where they travel to save the women they love after they are captured and forced into slavery. It’s a storyline that is knocked out of sync by one uncreative skit after another.

Relying on cheap and childish jokes (most revolve around bodily excrement and an oily Oliver Platt) and unmemorable one-liners, “Year One” falls face first somewhere in the rear of the evolution line (maybe between the amoeba and the chimpanzee). It’s a primitive, pun-filled hodgepodge that screams Monty Python without any of the wit or style.