In Theaters: March 20, 2009

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    Reviews of I Love You, Man, Hunger and Sin Nombre

    I Love You, Man
    Directed by John Hamburg
    Cast: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones

    ***1/2

    In 2008, Paul Rudd and Jason Segel starred separately in two of the year’s funniest movies, Role Models and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that their first collaboration I Love You, Man is 2009’s best mainstream comedy to date.  The movie is toting itself as a bromantic comedy—which basically translates as a romantic comedy with two dudes—the film casts Rudd as a socially-awkward dork named Peter, who is only months away from walking down the aisle with his perfect girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones).  But his impending nuptials remind him of a gaping hole in his life, specifically the lack of a close male buddy to serve as his best man.

    So with the full support and encouragement of his fiancée, Peter embarks on a series of “man dates” in search of the perfect dude.  Unfortunately, this quest is harder than it sounds.  After enduring a series of awkward nights out with a string of losers, Peter is ready to give up on men altogether…that is, until he meets Sydney (Segel), a goofy bachelor who is all the things Peter isn’t—laid back, unattached and effortlessly cool.  The two shouldn’t get along, but as the song goes, opposites attract and Peter quickly starts spending all his free time with Sydney, which understandably puts a strain on his relationship with Zooey.

    Truth be told, I Love You, Man is about as innovative as your typical romantic comedy, which is to say, not very.  But that’s largely by design.  Writer/director John Hamburg is deliberately following the rigid formula that drives movies like 27 Dresses, Made of Honor and his own 2004 rom-com Along Came Polly.  That formula usually involves a boy meeting a girl, fighting with the girl, making up with the girl, making out with the girl, breaking up with the girl and then getting back together with the girl after resolving some easily avoided misunderstanding.  I Love You, Man hits all the same story beats, but applies them to a boy/boy friendship as opposed to a boy/girl romance.  That’s probably why the movie drags in all the exact places you expect it to drag.  The misunderstanding that breaks Sydney and Peter up, for example, is lame even by rom-com standards and the final scene is marred by the same cringe-inducing public declaration of love that’s a staple of the genre.

    Fortunately, the rest of the film is much, much funnier than 27 Dresses and Along Came Polly, thanks largely to its terrific cast.  Segel and Rudd are the stars of the show, of course, but they’re ably backed up by Jones (who proves that her funny turn on The Office wasn’t a fluke) and a supporting ensemble that include ringers like Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Rob Huebel, Jaime Pressly and Jon Favreau.  It’s a real pleasure to watch these pros at work.  Like a good buddy, I Love You, Man is the kind of film you want to kick back, relax and grab a beer with.

    Verdict: See It

    Click here to read GIANT’s interview with Rashida Jones

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    Also in Theaters:

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    Hunger
    Directed by Steve McQueen
    Starring Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham

    ****
    The most brutal prison story I’ve seen since HBO’s Oz went off the air, Hunger tells the real-life story of Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army who led a hunger strike in 1981 while locked up in Northern Ireland’s infamous Maze Prison.  Divided into there distinct parts, the movie devotes its first half-hour to depicting daily life in the Maze, where prisoners are regularly beaten by the guards and train themselves to smuggle letters and even makeshift radios in various body cavities.  The second section is an extended conversation between Sands and the prison’s priest over the ethics and morality of his planned hunger strike.  The final thirty minutes give us front-row seats to witness Sands’ death from starvation.  His transformation into a human skeleton is depicted in almost clinical detail and I can only imagine the toll this experience must have taken on the actor playing Sands.  Normally, I’m not a fan of performers abusing their health for their profession, but I have to admit that Hunger wouldn’t be as powerful had Fassbender not subjected himself to such extreme measures.  Seeing the havoc starvation wrecks on a body makes it that much more difficult to view Sands as some kind of heroic martyr.  Director Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen) admirably maintains an objective point of view throughout the film, a tricky balancing act to pull off with such incendiary material.  A difficult, but wholly enveloping experience, Hunger is an auspicious feature filmmaking debut.
    Verdict: See It

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    Sin Nombre
    Directed by Cary Fukunaga
    Starring Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan
    **1/2

    One of the most beautifully photographed films I’ve seen so far this year, Cary Fukunaga’s Sundance-approved Sin Nombre lacks a rich story to complement its lush images.  Shot entirely on location in Mexico, the story follows a gang member who kills his leader in retaliation for the rape and murder of his girlfriend.  Marked for death, he rides the rails north to the U.S. border, hoping to cross to freedom before his former colleagues catch up to him.  Also making the journey is the teenage daughter of a recently deported illegal immigrant, attempting to get back to the other family he left behind in New Jersey.  An unlikely—and, quite frankly, implausible—friendship blossoms between the two young refugees as the story builds to a tragic climax that borrows heavily from Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven.  Fukunaga is clearly a talented director with a great visual eye, but for now his screenwriting skills leave a lot to be desired.
    Verdict: Rent It

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    We Pedal Uphill
    Directed by Roland Tec
    Starring Polly Adams, Kate Blumberg, Judith Barcroft
    **

    An admirable attempt at examining the state of our union post-9/11, We Pedal Uphill collects 13 short movies (all written and directed by Roland Tec) set in various cities around the U.S. that address such hot-button issues as voter fraud, racism and the violation of civil liberties.  Sounds like heady stuff, but the big problem with the film is that it all too often reduces these complex subjects to cheap melodrama or easy “Take that!” potshots.  The best segments are the most abstract—a single tracking shot of a deserted factory corridor echoing with the voices of the employees that once worked there or a man driving miles out of his way to thank a stranger for saving his life.  Whenever Tec spells out what he’s getting at—as in a sequence where a group of beef industry executives chow down on a huge lunch of ribs and steak—the movie feels like a class project from a first-year film school student.
    Verdict: Skip It

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