Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Warm Bodies

We've seen it a million times: Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy eats girl's brains. But have we seen it with—wait, what?

OK, so this isn't like Shaun of the Dead, where a zombie outbreak forms a backdrop for a romantic comedy, in Warm Bodies (written and directed by 50/50's Jonathan Levine) our hero actually is a zombie.

A zombie named Rrrrrrrrrr. Well, just R but you get the idea. Our hero (Nicholas Hoult again!) falls in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer, I Am Number Four) and saves her from his "friends" (a pack of ravening zombies, what else?) and takes her back to his airplane, where he has a collection of—well, stuff you wouldn't expect a zombie to have.

In other words, we're taking liberties with the zombie concept. But this is no sparkly vampire crap: the opening scenes contain some graphic zombie violence (in typical zombie-movie fashion, with evisceration and gore) which make a mockery of the PG-13 rating.

I mean, it didn't bug me (or The Flower, for that matter), and I suppose they show that on TV now, but it was a little jarring. It's both necessary and atonal, if you can imagine such a thing. The movie settles down after that without much "cannibalism" but the squeamish will want to be aware.

Anyway, it's necessary because these zombies are more like disaffected, alienated humans, and the movie never misses a chance to draw a parallel between the teen romance and zombie-ism. Which is kind of awesome.

There are uber-zombies, as well. These are zombies that have gone full-ghoul: Flesh almost completely gone, high speed and driven to kill even regular zombies from time-to-time. By comparison, your regular zombies seem almost lovable.

So, with this as your premise you can pretty much play out your standard Romantic-Comedy tropes and, why, it almost writes itself. But it doesn't necessarily write itself well (much less direct) and while perhaps not a classic, it is a solid, enjoyable film that does something different with the whole zombie thing, and the whole RomCom thing, and the whole teen movie thing. (I think that's the big three.)

There are just a million ways it could've gone wrong and it avoids most of them fairly gracefully. In that respect, it reminds of 50/50, which was a more serious topic but had many of the same liabilities in terms of balancing horrible or sad things without bogging down.

The Boy, The Flower and I all approved.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Israel Film Festival: God's Neighbors

The Israel Film Festival started last night in L.A. and The Boy and I trundled off—despite having seen No Place On Earth (review pending) the day before—to see God's Neighbors, one of the more action-packed offerings in recent years.

Probably the first movie I saw in the IFF was Ha Ushpizin back in the mid-2000s, the delightful story of a rabbi and his wife and how their social struggles and religious ideals clashed. Not the sort of movie you'd see coming out of America.

Ha! Good Neighbors features, as protagonists, a lovable gang of religious zealots.

The hero of this film is Avi, a grocer's son who goes around with his two pals enforcing respect for the neighborhood. The film opens with the three of them putting a beatdown on a rival...arab? secular Jew?...gang that deliberately sits in front of their apartments playing music too loud.

When Avi's not making inspirational music, and smoking pot (and occasionally hash), he's studying with his rabbi and working in his father's grocery. When a cute girl (Miri) comes in he can only comment obliquely (but rudely) on her unchaste manner of dress (which is basically culottes and a tank top).

Later, he and his droogs pay her a visit admonishing her to dress more modestly and "respect the neighborhood", to which suggestion she does not take kindly.

At the same time he likes her, and manages to get her to warm up to him only to blow it by menacing a local stylist who stayed open a little late on the Sabbath.

This creates a fairly typical dramatic tension: Avi likes Miri, and heeds what she says when she tells him what he's doing is wrong, but he thinks he's just doing God's work. His friends are less philosophical, and perhaps more into the bullying aspect of their gang activities than anything, much like most of the other gangs running around the neighborhood.

But while the dramatic set up is typical, the tension is chiefly about Avi doing what he thinks God wants him to do. Unlike his pals, his belief is unquestionably sincere: When Miri connects with him about wanting to celebrate the Sabbath with him (which she hasn't recently, she confesses), they share some romantic moments—during which Avi will not touch her, as that would be sinful.

Genuine spiritual struggle, presented sincerely, but without treacle and without glossing over the inherent difficulties in trying to live an ethical life in accordance with what God wants.

Pretty neat, actually. Like most of these Israeli films, you get the sense that the actors aren't really acting so much as inhabiting real-life characters they know or (as in the case of Ha Ushpizin) actually are in real life.

Great start to the festival. Next up: By Summer's End.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Leonie

Following in on our theme of moms who inspire their sons to, if nothing else, make movies abut them, this week brought Leonie, the story of a New York Gal who has Yellow Fever and just can't keep her legs together.

I keed. Sorta.

This is a true story of a very intelligent woman who ends up editing the writing of a Japanese man at the end of the 19th century in New York City. The book the man is writing, The American Diary of a Japanese Girl (duping at least some of its readers into believing it was actually that), becomes a sensation of sorts, and in a fit of passion, Leonie and Japanese guy (Noguchi) hook up.

This being the 19th century, a woman had to have assurances, so Noguchi scrawls "Lenoie Gilmour is my lawful wife" on a piece of paper or some damn thing.

Look, they had hormones back then, just like now. (Good thing, too, or we wouldn't be here blathering on the Internet.) Repeatedly but, thankfully, not on camera.

'course, Noguchi is kind of a bastard and probably bisexual and vanishes for months at a time, and of course Leonie is pregnant. (You didn't even need to know this was based on a biography of her son to know that was coming.) Leonie runs off to her mother's place in Pasadena California (a farm, as Pasadena was back then) and has her baby au naturel. (Or, as they called it back then: "having a baby".)

She gives birth to a child she doesn't name (because the father should) that her mother names "Yosemite", and finally decides to move to Japan so Noguchi can be a father to him.

So, yeah, a white woman with a half-Japanese baby moves to Japan at the start of the Russo-Japanese War. Say it with me:

What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, if a lot goes wrong at the social level, we don't see too much of it. Noguchi is a jerk, of course. At first we think he's come around a little, because he's got her a nice house and pupils she can teach English to, and he cares enough to name his kid "Isamu" meaning "courageous" or "warrior".

Then we learn that the pupils are basically favors (possibly paid) who all pretty much speak English. And Isamu's main concern is having her edit his stuff. (I confess this is an approach to corralling a great editor I never considered before.) Oh, and he's still vanishing for long stretches on account of his real (Japanese) wife.

So, she ends up leaving him—but staying in Japan. This wasn't entirely credible, even if it did actually happen. But one thing leads to another and she gets pregnant again, and so moves again to avoid all those awkward questions.

I dunno. We liked this movie but I didn't exactly admire her as a character. She had many admirable qualities and was likable enough, but she seemed pretty reckless regarding her kids. Something about that smelled wrong. As in, untrue.

Other parts of it smelled wrong, too: For instance, we're treated to white kids bullying Asian kids in California during the Russo-Japanese war (which happened) but as racist as Americans surely were toward Asians a hundred years ago, it couldn't possibly hold a candle to the Japanese were—ever.

But the movie never shows us any of the difficulty Leonie must have had, and Isamu and his sister in particular. Amerasian children? In Japan? In the first half of the 20th century?

It seems whitewashed. Or maybe a bit of a hagiography. The filmmakers want you to respect Leonie  (and Japan) so much they're afraid to show anything that really challenges her. It's great that Isamu grew up to be an internationally renowned artist and architect, but I found myself wondering what happened to his little sister.

Anyway, excellent cast. Emily Moritmer is perfect as the eponymous editor. Christina Hendricks has a small role as her prettier friend. (I'm not a big Hendricks fan but the chick can rock period garb, amirite? Anyway, she does well here as the woman beautiful and socially adept enough to marry very well but who is tantalized by Leonie's abrasive intellectualism.) Mary Kay Place looks—well, actually kinda yummy, as Leonie's organic, whole-grain mother. (They frumped her up a bit for "Big Love" and truthfully she looked far too good for the hard life she must have had, but whatevs.)

Place brings a lot of pathos to her role, as a mom who imbued her daughter with an independent spirit, then came to sort of regret it.

The Japanese cast does well, but you've never heard of them, and they're all pretty minor roles. Leonie moves around a lot.

Eh, it's not great. It's not even all that good, really, but we didn't find it boring. It's a three-year-old flick, which probably tells you something about how it plays in Peoria. It does seem like a missed opportunity, somehow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shadow Dancer

"Wait, what did they say? Who are they after? Why did she do that?"

I would say that Shadow Dancer, the tale of IRA terrorists in the '90s and the MI5 agents out to get them, heralded my entrance into the world of senior citizenism, but The Boy had just a hard a time following it as I did.

It wasn't the accents, especially. The brogue here isn't as severe as it probably would be in real life, and nothing as extreme as, say, Billy Elliot. But it was one of those films where the ambient noise seems needlessly loud relative to the mumbly dialog.

Then you have a certain similarity between the look of certain characters. There were a couple of gingers and a couple of brown-haired dudes I kept getting mixed up.

The relationships were kind of murky, too: Since this is a movie about (essentially) a terrorist cell, it's hard to tell who's in charge, who's reporting to whom, who the scariest ones are, etc.

Despite all this, we enjoyed it, which probably means if we could've figured out what was going on, we would've really liked it.

The premise, from what I could tell was this: Young Colette (Andrea Riseborough of Happy-Go-Lucky and Never Let Me Go) is part of a family of Irish terrorists, and as a child sees her young brother killed during a terrorist attack. The English are blamed, of course, which gives us an understanding of why, as an adult, she is riding through The Underground with a duffel bag full of explosives.

But instead of setting them off in a subway, she sets them down in a passageway where they're guaranteed to be found, and flees, only to be caught by MI5. In custody, an agent known to her as "Mac" (who has been tracking her long enough to feel he knows her, and that she's redeemable) gives her the option of life in jail, with her son going to whatever-they-call-child-protective-services-in-Britain, or to become a mole in her own home, spying on her own family.

This is kind of a double-reverse whammy, because there's already a mole somewhere in her little terrorist cell.

Lotta good suspense and mystery in these parts, with some interesting twists coming in the form of Mac's boss (played by Gillian Anderson) who seems to be using Mac and Colette for her own unknown purposes.

Mac is played by Clive "And just when everything was going so well" Owen.

Directed by James Marsh (director of the great documentary Man On Wire) who did well, except for maybe the sound recording choices, from a screenplay based on a book (both written by Tom Bradby).

There may have been an expectation of greater understanding of context from the audience. All I really know about IRA terrorism is that it was terrorism, and embarrassingly popular in the US for a couple of decades (prior to 9/11, of course).

The movie still works, though. The Boy has my lack of facility for identifying similar faces, and there are a bunch of pasty-faced micks in this thing. (I can say "micks", I think, because I'm Irish. I think.) But we both liked the film, despite our (or its) various deficiencies.

Did not understand the ending. I mean, I know what happened and who was behind it, but I did not grasp enough of Colette's character to understand her motivation. What I kind of think is going on is that the movie is playing with traditional narrative ideas about how protagonists act and should be, and telling us, no, you're wrong, the facts don't change because you spin them a different way.

But maybe I just missed the obvious. Either way, the fact that it's something intriguing and engaging is a bonus.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Sapphires

A black girl-group of singers make it big in the '60s singing R&B! Sure, we've seen it before, but have we seen it with aborigines? That's the premise of the new film The Sapphires, a fun toe-tapping flick that touches on racism in a different way from your usual '60s-based musical flick.

In this, a group of child singers (girls) in the outback are doing their country-and-western (with some local folk) music thing—which despite later ridicule, is actually quite lovely. Not fashionable, of course, but lovely in a square way.

We flash forward a decade or so, and they're grown-up and living in their aboriginal squalor, one of them conspicuously missing, one kind of fat 'n' bossy, one with a kid and so on. But they still sing. Wonderfully.

The story involves them going to a talent show where they're so much better than everyone else, only racism could keep them from winning (and it does). Not only that it leads to the MC losing his job for standing up for them.

This, in turn, leads to a harebrained scheme to audition to entertain the troops in Vietnam.

It's nice. Even the not nice parts are pretty nice.

The music is nice, too. Most of it's not the typical '60s stuff you've heard beat into the ground, though it's familiar enough. Good arrangements.

You also get some love stories, a little look into the amazingly racist history white Australia had with its aborigines (which I was aware of but I don't know if most people know the extent), some True War stuff, and some fun characters to spend a little time with.

 There was a fair amount of clapping (and even some singing) along—far too much for The Boy's taste, though he and the Flower both enjoyed the film quite a bit.

Fine acting from a bunch of people you've never heard of and probably never will again (especially the girls), even if you're Australian, though you may know Chris O'Dowd as the sheriff with the inexplicable Aussie accent from Bridesmaids and Tory Kittles from "Sons of Anarchy" or Olympus Has Fallen.

Crowd-pleaser.


Inspired by the true story of one of the screenwriters.

Blancanieves

Well, here's a novel idea, in the world of fairy-tale rehashes: Set "Snow White" in Spain. In the 1920s. And make it black-and-white. And silent. And have bullfighting. (I guess ya gotta have bullfighting, if you're going to be in Spain in the '20s.)

It sure beats Tolkien-izing it.

In Blancanieves, we have the story of a great bullfighter who is nearly done in when an opportunistic paparazzo flashes a picture at just the wrong moment. The resultant trauma causes his wife, a beautiful singer, to prematurely into labor whereupon she dies giving birth to Carmen, the titular Blancanieves.

The distraught and crippled bullfighter is set upon by a greedy nurse, who marries him and keeps him a prisoner, away from his daughter, while she spends his money and has kinky dominatrix sex with the huntsman (only shown for laughs, a la Mel Brooks High Anxiety), in this case a chauffeur/aide/major domo.

And so it goes.

All done silent (not just no dialog, but no foleying) in the high melodramatic fashion of '20s silent films. Except for film quality and camera movement, it's very much of that era (cf. The Artist).

If you've read many of my reviews, you know I love this kind of stuff, and I really enjoyed this film. It manages to press the melodrama without veering into camp, sincere but not overly serious, original but not gratuitously or compulsively "different", and touching on the Snow White themes without feeling like a rehash.

The last is probably the thing: Instead of using a well known fairy tale to launch into a remake of Lord of the Rings, it takes the broader story of greed, jealousy and love (with plenty of callbacks, even to the Disney cartoon) and gives us something both familiar and different.

Credit goes to (relatively) new director Pablo Berger, though he could not have done it without a deliciously over-the-top performance from Maribel Verdu (Pan's Labyrinth) who is pure evil.

The actresses playing all the little Carmens (at different ages) are quite good and Daniel Gimenez Cacho (Come Out And Play) brings a winning warmth as the grieving father.

It's not for everyone. The whole silent, black-and-white melodrama aside, one might have trouble with the ending. The Boy liked the ending, The Flower found it sad. For a movie based on a fairy tale, it's a very un-fairytale ending.

But it is Romantic, as is the whole film.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jack The Giant Slayer

Remember when Bryan Singer was challenging film narratives with The Usual Suspects or creating (with Sam Raimi) the modern superhero flick with X-Men and X-Men 2?

Good times.

He went off the rails with Superman Returns, I guess, though at least that's different. He's yet to find his way back on track and now has given us the latest in modern fairytale hash, Jack The Giant Slayer.

I couldn't get The Boy interested in seeing this. "It looks so stupid," he'd say. "But Bryan Singer," I'd say. "The Usual Suspects!" He'd frown and say "but...stooopid..." I really had no argument—the posters do look stupid. (I read The Boy the entirety of Grimm's tales when he was a youngster, and he still remembers the stories.)

By chance, however, I was up north visiting a friend of mine whose wife has similar views on entire genre of movies, and he wanted to see a film in one of those genres, which given our time constraints, left us with this movie—and in 3D. Ugh.

My buddy leaned in about 20 minutes into it and whispered, "This is better than I thought it was going to be." I was pleased, because it was exactly as good as I thought it was going to be. Which is to say, not very. However, it was better than a lot of its peers.

The story isn't "Jack The Giant Slayer" but a Tolkien-ized "Jack and the Beanstalk", but I guess that's a less cool title. (The Boy would've been more interested if it had been based on "The Valiant Little Tailor" which is another Jack-based-giant-slaying story famous for "seven with one blow".)

Long ago, a magical beanstalk connected the human world with the cloud world where all the giants live. The giants came down and started wrecking up the place. The matter was resolved by crafting a crown out of giant-heart-metal (or whatever) which gives the wearer power over the giants, and also confiscating the magic beans.

Our story begins when an unscrupulous adviser (Stanley Tucci) to the king (Ian McShane) has exhumed these artifacts in a plot to use the giants to, you know, run stuff. He's also managed to get the king to promise his daughter Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) to him, so this a man with a lot of world-domination irons in the fire.

Meanwhile, our boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult, whom you may not recognize as the titular boy from About A Boy) has been instructed by his uncle (his parents are dead) to sell the family horse and cart, but en route, he encounters a monk who has managed to swipe the magic beans and is trying to get back to his monastery to hide them. Hence, Jack seems like less of an idiot, ending up with the beans as he does as a kind of collateral for the horse. (No one believes in giants or magic beans any more, of course.)

Well, you can see where this is going.

And it's a fairly standard grind. The princess is feisty. Jack wants to be Royal Guard to defend the princess, but he can't because you have to be of royal blood (huh?). Tucci is channeling Chris Guest's Six-Fingered Man. Ian McShane is just bein' Ian McShane. Come to think of it, if you were looking for a modern Princess Buttercup, Eleanor Tomlinson would do. (She has finer features than Robin Wright but there are similarities.)

The whole thing would've been better if they had gone more Valiant Tailor meets The Princess Bride come to think of it.

My friend and I were split on the CGI. He liked the giants, because he saw the dirt and coarseness, instead of (e.g.) a Toy Story kind of smoothness. I just saw that uncanny valley-esque plastic skin and  cartoonish exaggeration.

What we both agreed on was that it was relatively free of Jacksonian excesses and was much better for it. There are some improbable stunts involving a falling beanstalk, and a castle siege involving giants which didn't bear much thought, but by-and-large it avoids the ridiculous-stunt-removing-all-tension pitfall. (And the castle siege had some novel and cool elements to it.)

It's not just Jackson that's doing this, of course, but his amazing success is driving the style.

Meanwhile, it also lacks the "young girl is special and magical" crap they throw in to pander to the Twilight audiences. The Princess here is somewhat adventurous but not a swordmaster/lycanthrope/sorceress.

So it manages to avoid a lot of irritating tropes of the modern big budget fairy tale. It just doesn't rise much beyond that either. Ian McShane was actually sorta irritating. (Though there was a cute thing that he always wore armor and outfits that were outsized, to look bigger presumably.)

Best part of the movie is doubtless Ewan MacGregor as the captain of the Royal Guard. Although even that role is an awful cliché (recently twisted in Disney's Tangled so that it's the captain's horse), MacGregor plays it with tremendous charm and the story allows for him to be heroic. There's an element of The Valiant Tailor, in that Jack is pretty lucky, though he's also quite brave. MacGregor's character is more traditionally heroic, without any dumb competition with Jack.

I'd say this is one of those movies that doesn't knock your socks off while you're watching, but you do find things to admire about it upon reflection.

Oh, and I wasn't in town, so I paid regular prices for tickets, which with the 3D glasses worked out to $28 for two tickets. If that's what you people are paying, no wonder you don't go to the movies more.

Dorfman in Love

Dorfman in Love is kind of an unusual flick. It had the kind of buzz you saw for (500) Days of Summer, a quirky rom-com making the indie circuit. Then when it came out, the critics excoriated it even though audiences were more receptive. It has the kind of Rotten Tomatoes split you expect from a Christian flick (15/64) although that may be at least partly because very, very few people have seen it indeed. (Fewer reviews tend to result in more severe scores.)

The basic plot is simple enough, Deb Dorfman (Sara Rue, remember her?) lives a life where she takes care of her cranky, recently widowed father (Elliot Gould), is taken advantage of by her "perfect" brother (Jonathan Chase), treated as a charity case by her sister-in-law (Keri Lynn Pratt), and used by  the ridiculously handsome and perfect Johann Urb, whom she's been nursing a decade long crush on.

Her scheme, in this film, is to volunteer to take care of his cat while he's off investigating things in Kabul, and while she's in his loft, to unpack and decorate for him. Thus winning his love.

The wrinkle is that he has a sexy, womanizing next-door neighbor (Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor) who takes a shine to her, though as a friend, but we all know where this must ultimately lead.

Now, here's the thing. We have a lively script by TV veteran Wendy Kout ("Mork and Mindy" and, one of my favorites, "Anything But Love"). There's laffs-a-plenty to go along with the mostly competent direction by newcomer Brad Leong (though there are some rough spots as far as comedic timing goes). We have Sara Rue, who is mostly pretty appealing, though her character sometimes misses the mark between "appealingly rough around the edges" and "suddenly weirdly abrasive". We've got Elliot Gould, who these days can carry a movie just being a crotchety old Jewish dude.

So, we liked it well enough. But there was something nagging at me, the further the movie went along.

There were little things, of course. Like, Deb lives in the Valley, but it's only through moving into this downtown loft that the world opens up for her. Deb is "Hollywood chubby", which is to say, not really chubby at all, and looks great when she's shoehorned into a flattering dress. Actually, her makeover reminded me of her character in Idiocracy: "Brawndo has...what plants crave!"

They didn't do a makeover montage, thank God, but—but...this isn't really an indie rom-com at all. Deb reads romance novels, and about 30 minutes into it (I'm slow) I realized this is a romance novel. I haven't read a romance novel since the '80s (when I was reading them in anticipation of writing them) but the whole plotline of the kinda frumpy (again, I know), kinda twitchy, kinda shy, unblossomed, unappreciated, etc., etc., woman with two hot, alpha male love interests?

Is this just basically some old school pandering?

Looking at some critical reviews, they mostly talk about it being "standard", "formulaic", "old ground" but that's not really it. The romantic-comedy is one of the most well-defined genres, so much so that movies that don't do certain things predictably can't really be called rom-coms (cf. the aforementioned 500 Days or Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy).

Not all the jokes work, and the timing (as mentioned) is off on occasion, but the thing I keep coming back to is: Would I be insulted if I were in the target demographic? Or would I just think it was a fluffy good time?

I truly do not know. And it matters, if you're in that demo, because it's the difference between a feel-good trifle and potentially murderous rage. But so far I haven't been able to convince any women to see it.

My recommendation, therefore, is highly conditional: You have to like the formula and you have to promise not to kill me if it pisses you off.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Renoir

After seeing a French-Canadian movie made by and starring people we didn't know, the next up was a French-French movie, made by and starring people we didn't know: Renoir.

Pro tip for foreign countries: If you could limit your actors, writers and directors to about 10-12 people, we here in America would have a much better chance of recognizing them when their movies made it over here.

Anyway, this is the story of the painter Pierre-August Renoir and one of his sons, the film-make Jean Renoir. I was not particularly eager to see it, beloved as it was by critics and tepidly received, at best by audiences.

But it's fine. Measured, maybe even slow. But it's an interesting time period (WWI) full of interesting people engaged in situations, I can only assume, that were created out of whole cloth by the writer and director. I mean, I suppose they could've used Jean Renoir's biography of his father as a starting point, but—well, it just seems awfully intimate and rich in detail no one could possibly know.

For something that must be so carefully constructed, it's a little murky. It's not clear who the main character is. I guess Jean Renoir. But he doesn't go through much of a character arc. Pierre-August doesn't either, really. Neither does the third leg in their triangle, the model/actress Andrée Heuschling.

Their relationships move through arcs, at least. Everything kind of comes together in something like an ending, though the stinger (discussing the fates of Jean and Andrée) feels sort of contradictory. We were not bored, somehow.

It's beautifully shot, like a Renoir painting, of course. (Although moments reminded me more of Rembrandt.) And it's kind of impressionistic: blobs of color, imagery, emotion, all forming to make a cohesive whole, even if it doesn't quite gel as a traditional narrative.

I probably put it somewhere between the 56% the peeps gave it and the 80% the critics gave it.

I'd also note that Christa Theret looks good naked. This is no small matter, since she is naked a lot. Artistic naked, though, so it's okay. More importantly, for me, is she looks era-appropriate. Unlike, for example, Bérénice Bejo in The Artist, she is lean without being hard, soft looking with a swayed lower back that makes her belly curve outward.

And Renoir paints her fat, which she doesn't care for at all. Heh.

Anyway, I can't blanket recommend it because I'm biased toward WWI stuff, movie stuff and art stuff in general, to say nothing of naked redheads, so you may not enjoy it as we did.

Starbuck

I was struggling to come up with a proper antyonym for misanthropic to describe this movie and basically coming up empty. It should be philanthropic, I guess, but that usually implies good words or deeds, as opposed to just a charitable spirit or attitude. I sometimes use the word malignant to describe movies, as well, and can't really say benign here, since that's more a neutral term.

Basically, Starbuck is a funny film that ultimately finds something good in everyone. You know that moment I have when I'm talking about French films where I describe something here and then say, "I know, French, right?" I did not have that here, because this isn't a French film, it's a French-Canadian film, remarkably free of angst and ennui. It's even kind of morally conservative.

I know, weird, right?

Here's the premise: Lovable loser David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is a guy with a big heart who's bad with money. Bad enough to owe some Bad Guys $80,000, and loser enough to think his way out of it is to grow lots of marijuana in his apartment. He works in his family's abattoir but hasn't ever gone beyond doing meat deliveries, which he does poorly.

Then, as it turns out, his girlfriend (gorgeous Julie LeBreton)—and he's a bad boyfriend, too, apparently—is pregnant. But that's not what this movie is about.

The movie starts in earnest when, as David starts to turn his life around to make himself worthy of fatherhood, he discovers that his sperm donations in college resulted in offspring. And those offspring want to know who he is.

Oh, and due to some glitch at the clinic, it turns out he has 533 children, and 142 of those have filed a lawsuit to find out their father's true identity.

In a fit of newfound responsibility, David decides to find these kids incognito to see if he can't make a little difference in their lives. (Public disapproval—"Starbuck" comes to be known popularly as El Masturbator—prevents him from coming forward. Also people seem to blame "Starbuck" for what happened, even though clearly it's the clinic's fault.)

Because this is a movie, a short period of stalking his children allows him to be there at critical moments in their lives, and to face some of the difficult choices of being a father. And he quickly becomes torn between the consequences of revealing who he is (the stakes of which are constantly upped) and a compelling passion to do the right thing.

This could have gone so wrong.

It could have gone zany, but stays close to its characters and treats the events of their lives seriously. It could have been glib, presenting him with no real difficulty or presenting him with insurmountable problems—but one of his kids is just plain irritating. It could've gone dark.

It just dances in and out of these areas, giving the characters a chance to be likable or relatable or someone, minimally, you're can pull for. Even David's kind of icky lawyer (Antoine Bertrand) whose kids ignore him and is apparently kind of a failure in life—you end up rooting for him as he struggles to help his friend out of his mess (and maybe do something a little bigger than he's used to).

I can't remember the last time I saw a film so kind. That's worth a lot. It's also funny. Which is worth a lot, too. And kind of an usual combination: A kind comedy.

I don't think I'd call it a great movie, but it's something I could watch again. Probably multiple times.

It's so Canadian! Heh.

It's also something I can recommend to anyone not completely jaded or cynical.

The Boy also enjoyed greatly.

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