Although I’m not a huge fan of so-bad-they’re-good recommendations, I have to point out this achingly desperate, star-studded (for a certain demo) affair with an insulting premise, performances ranging from amusing to gawk-worthy and characters, wrapped in the warm, protective shell of “satire,” who act as stand-ins for one man’s (writer-director Josh Shelov) salt-in-the-wound obsession with the recession. And it’s all kind of awesome in a shit-faced kind of way. Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville (told you the cast is awesome) play a single-child couple willing to do anything to get their daughter into a private New York kindergarten. To skip the waiting list (and avoid the unthinkable – public school), Harris poses as a Very Important Poet, a ruse that involves instant-messaging transcripts. This is all done under the direction of Amy Sedaris as an “admissions coach.” Now, I could watch Sedaris and Harris in literally anything – hence this blurb – but this should only be seen amid the haze of a bona fide, potentially fatal bout of the flu. Under those circumstances, though, it’s pretty remarkable. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, audition footage
You know how Kevin Kline can sometimes seem so smug and detached that you wonder if he even enjoys acting anymore? Turns out, there’s a fix for that: Have him speak French, as he does throughout as the lead in this elegantly simple story in which a hotel cleaning lady (Sandrine Bonnaire) discovers the joy of chess with Kline’s help. As her employer, Kline exudes a calm appeal, especially in comparison to Bonnaire’s abusive husband and brat teen daughter. But it’s the French language (and that beautiful Corsica setting) that truly shines here, bestowing a newfound charisma and mystery to Kline that could reinvigorate his career. (available now)
Special Features: Making-of documentary
Writer-director Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent) has a well-earned reputation as an actor’s director, but here he’s more of an athlete’s filmmaker. This story involves a high-school wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti) who entangles himself in a low-rent scheme to defraud the elderly. Meanwhile, his mark’s grandson, played
wonderfully inward by non-actor Alex Shaffer, turns out to be a champion wrestler in disguise who might bring the coach’s team to some level of respectability. I know, there are a lot of unlikely moving pieces. But setting the fraud aside (which the film does, to a fault), this is a terrific sports movie, however formulaic. The verisimilitude of the wrestling environment – McCarthy was an admittedly average high-school wrestler – brings the film to life every time the mats are out. One can practically smell the must. Whether or not that’s a good thing for the viewer, it’s a great thing for the film.
(available Aug. 23)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes, music video
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