Win Win (2011)

If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s sport. And if there’s one thing Americans love more than sport, it’s sport movies. Rocky, Jerry Maguire, and Gene Hackman’s genre-defining Hoosiers all kept cinemas as crammed as basketball stadiums over the years. Which brings us to new high school wrestling drama Win Win, a film that sticks close to the tropes of tried and true big-hitters (i.e. battered hero ‘finds’ himself again thanks to association with extracurricular activity) but never quite makes it into the premiere league of sporting classics.

Of course, Win Win is more than just a sports movie – it’s also a Paul Giamatti movie. With the Sideways actor having effectively cornered the market in down-on-their-luck depressed middle-agers, Win Win finds Giamatti playing New Jersey attorney Mike Flaherty. Struggling to support his wife and two kids, Mike’s on a one way road to Nowhereville. Until teen runaway Kyle (Alex Shaffer) tumbles into his life. Having fled his alcoholic mother, Kyle ends up bunking at the Flaherty’s, and when he enrols in the local high school where Mike’s a wrestling coach, Mike discovers that Kyle’s abilities on the wrestling mat far outshine those of his own team.

Directed by Thomas McCarthy, who also helmed exceptional middle-age drama The Visitor, Win Win is both cosy and charming. Amy Ryan in particular delivers a fantastic, no-bullshit turn as Giamatti’s long-suffering wife, while McCarthy keeps the domestic drama nicely in balance with the quirky comedy. But while the pacing rarely lags, Win Win’s feather light approach to drama feels more like a friendly local kick-about than a powerhouse Man U vs Liverpool clash. Which is no doubt McCarthy’s intention, his film having more in common with low-key indies than certain grandstanding boxing epics. In short: a winning drama that never punches above its weight. 4/5

Via Out In The City

Super freaks

Nathan Fillion in a girly wig. Ellen Page being an idiot. Rainn Wilson. Three reasons right there to get your knickers in a twist over James Slither Gunn’s bloody, sly, genre-muddling Super. Scripted long before Kick-Ass but only now making it to screens, it’s of that same ‘bloke becomes superhero’ mould – but is by all accounts filthier. Yes, filthier than a 10-year-old muttering the C word.

Branded an “effed up, low-rent Watchmen” by Wilson, Super follows the comedy crusader’s everyguy Frank. When Frank’s wife (the smokin’ hot Liv Tyler) goes on a drug-slicked bender with Kevin Bacon, Frank transforms himself into superhero Crimson Bolt in an attempt to win her back. If only he was actually any good at rescuing people.

Okay, awesome check list… Page blowing a bloke up with a grenade? Check! Fillion feeling fey as the Holy Avenger? Check! Tyler actually being injected during a druggy re-enactment scene? Uhhh… check! Director-writer Gunn may have branded shooting the thing a “hellish experience” (tight budget purse-strings meant they rushed through a whopping 50 set-ups a day), but Super has ‘runaway cult hit’ status stamped all over it. And not just because it has Nathan Fillion in a girly wig.

Via Total Film

Youth In Revolt (2010)

Michael Cera, that geek-who-gets-the-girl of Juno and Superbad fame, hasn’t got a mean bit of marrow in his body. Or has he?

Well, with director Miguel Arteta at the wheel, all bets are off. Lest we forget, this is the man who drew a dazzlingly dowdy performance from Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl, perhaps the only film in the ex-Friends’ repertoire to be of any genuine merit. But does the Puerto Rican grant Cera the same generous typecast-busting? Half-and-half, say we. Quite literally, as the King of Geek plays a horny young nerd whose character splits in two.

As Nick Twisp, Cera plays an intellectual doormat who dreams of having a girlfriend, but lacks both the attitude and the aptitude to land one. Which is where devious alter ego Francois Dillinger comes in; a chain-smoking, slacks-wearing, be-‘tached delinquent who delights in anarchy and chaos.

The cause of this fractured psyche? Why, a girl, of course. Portia Doubleday’s temperamental temptress Sheeni, to be exact. When she and Twisp meet at a holiday camp, the latter falls head-over-hard-on for the French-loving beauty, and births his scheming alternate identity to get him what he wants.

Clearly revelling in playing a youth far more revolting than previous incarnations, Cera steals the show with split-screen interactions that resemble The Parent Trap gone horribly, horribly wrong. Chomping on magic mushrooms, blowing up cars and generally being a right belligerent devil, it’s the Twisp/Dillinger mayhem that earns the film its darkly comic tone.

But like the gangly one’s character, Arteta’s film suffers from something of a split personality. At one end of the pitch, there’s a scathing comedy of errors, one that actively seeks out its characters’ flaws and magnifies them until they bloat into broad farce. On the opposing team, there’s an American Pie-begging romp that involves masturbation gags and girls’ school break-ins.

A little too manic for its own good, Youth in Revolt is restless and unruly. Too often forcibly mean-spirited, it only elicits a handful of genuine laughs. Which is sad, considering its goldmine supporting cast, which includes Steve Buscemi as Cera’s wayward father, Jean Smart as his over-dependent mother, Ray Liotta her cop squeeze and Justin Long as Sheeni’s drugged-up sib.

Come August, Cera will be doing battle in Edgar Wright’s comic book adap Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Can he stretch himself into new, interesting territory? There’s promise, and we don’t mind holding our breath… But if he doesn’t allow his geek-chic image to graduate soon, Cera could find himself with a bit of an audience revolt on his hands.

Anticipation: Michael Cera plays another girl-chasing geek. Yawn. 2

Enjoyment: Cera’s on top form, while the darker twists bring something new to the table. Still, it’s all a little déjà vu… 3

In Retrospect: Devilish alt-ego aside, this is mostly more of the same. Sadly, easily forgettable. 2

Via Little White Lies

Zombieland

What you gonna do when your town – hell, your world – is besieged by zombies? Well, call Woody. Harrelson, that is (though we wouldn’t mind watching the Allen variety psychoanalysing the fucked-up undead for an hour or two). Harrelson may be the dippy funnyman we all remember from Cheers, but by all accounts he’s got one heck of a right hook. Just ask the paparazzo he landed a knuckle smash to in April this year. The actor’s excuse for the bust up? “I wrapped a movie called Zombieland, in which I was constantly under assault by zombies, then flew to New York, still very much in character. With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie.” Imagine that went down well at the station.

Filmed around Giorgia, USA, Zombieland pits a rag tag band of humans against an emerging army of flesh-munchers. But if you’re sensing a certain degree of ‘deja so?’, you’ve not seen Harrelson’s Tallahassee, a Steston-toting redneck at the centre of the wretched resistance. He’s also on a personal mission to find the last Twinkie on the planet. “Ma mother always told me, ‘Some day you’ll be good at something’,” simmers Tallahassee as he brandishes a rifle. “I don’t think she coulda guessed that somethin’ would be zombie killing.” The arsenal at his disposal? Machine guns, pianos, fairground rides… you name it, he’ll use it to bash in the brains of anything lacking a pulse.

So, could this be America’s steroid-pumped answer to that other renowned zom-com? Director Ruben Fleischer certainly believes so. “I like to think of it as Midnight Run with zombies,” he says. “It’s the story of these two unlikely people that go on a road trip together. Woody Harrelson is this zombie-killing badass and then Jesse Eisenberg is this sort of wimpy coward and they have both managed to survive.”

Rounding out the cast are a notably more mature Abigail Breslin, and current horror pin-up Amber Heard. Thus far we’ve only glimpsed the trailer, but with its mash up of zom-brats and comedy slow-mo chases (all set to Van Halen’s rocking ‘Everybody Wants Some’), Zombieland could just be the sleeper horror hit of 2009. As for the rumour that Bill Murray has a zombie cameo, Fleischer’s keeping schtum. “I guess you will just have to go see it!” Bet Tallahassee could get it out of him.

Via Total Film