Matt Dillon gives one of his finest performances in Factotum; one the year's best films, Little Miss Sunshine, follows the misadventures of a dysfunctional family as they drive cross-country in VW Miocrobus to get the youngest child to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant; one of the worst, The Architect, is the examination of an architect whose plans for a housing project degenerated into a ghetto, and the black woman who seeks his help in getting a new and better situation for its resident; Brothers of the Head is a mockumentary about a punk band fronted by conjoined twins that feels a lot like something by David Lynch…
This little indie flick adapts the Charles Bukowski novel about wannabe writer Henry Chinaski [Matt Dillon] whose drinking is matched only by his determination to write. As he wanders from job to job, and woman to woman, writing and drinking are his only constants. When he encounters Jan [Lili Taylor], he stays with her, on and on, more than any other woman, but even she can't assuage his need to drink – though she does seem to support his need to write. At times, Henry tries to get help from his parents, gets himself picked up by a woman named Laura [Marisa Tomei], and fills mailboxes with unsolicited manuscripts.
Chinaski is generally seen as a roman a clef for Bukowski, and Dillon does a very good job of keeping Henry clamped down and focused on his writing and drinking. He makes Henry's efforts at womanizing seem more the act of a drowning man reaching a life jacket than merely an effort to get laid. Henry is aware of his desperation but not willing to give into it.
Features are: a "Making of" documentary; a trailer for the excellent soundtrack, and the theatrical trailer.
Factotum – Grade: B
Features – Grade: D
Final Grade: C+
Little Miss Sunshine
This film combines the road trip and comically dysfunctional family genres for a subtly crazed and hilarious cinematic experience that revolves around the efforts of the family members – none of whom seem to much like each other [though it's clear they do love each other] – to get youngest daughter, Olive [Abigail Breslin] to California to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant.
Father Richard [Greg Kinnear] is a motivational speaker who's trying to flog his book with little to no success; Sheryl [Toni Colette] is the mom who is continually frustrated that no one seems to want to get along; Frank [Steve Carell], Sheryl's suicidal brother is the foremost Proust scholar in America; Dwayne [Paul Dano], the older son, has vowed not to speak until he becomes an Air Force pilot, and Grandpa [Alan Arkin] is an irascible old coot who only really connects with his granddaughter.
Their adventures, as they cross the country in their rattletrap VW Microbus [they have to push it to get it started] are as odd and fractured as the family itself. If Hope and Crosby had had a road trip like this, they'd have wound up in a rubber room! Which is not to say that film isn't smart – it's almost unbelievably smart and crazy witty. Co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to be perfectly in sync with their cast – the film is so beautifully paced, and the humor is produced so elegantly that it seems like the easiest thing to do in the world.
Features include: commentary by Dayton and Faris, and deleted scenes [including four alternate endings with optional commentary by the directors].
Little Miss Sunshine – Grade: A+
Features – Grade: B+
Final Grade: B+
The Architect is the latest experiment in multiple platform release for a film – within days of its theatrical release, it appeared in video stores. Of course, it didn't exactly set the world on fire from either venue – it's not very good.
The fabulous cast [Anthony LaPaglia, Isabella Rossellini, Viola Davis, Hayden Panetierre] is wasted in this adaptation of a stage play that deals with the efforts of an activist [Davis] who is trying to get a project he designed – that is now a slum – razed and replaced with a better designed series of building. She figures that, if she can get the signature of the aging project's architect [LaPaglia] on her petition, she'll have a better chance of getting what she wants. As she tries to get his help, the architect's family [Rossellini and Panetierre] is not-so-quietly falling apart – and he hasn't a clue as to why.
Essentially, the basic problem with The Architect is that it's so concerned with its message that its character development suffers – well, that and the fact that it's pacing is positively glacial. Then there's the manner in which it comes across – it feels like a filmed play more than movie – and that's despite it utilizing a few carefully selected locations, as well as sets. The amazing thing is that, despite the inadequacies of the script, the pacing and the static feel of thing, the cast gives extremely good performances. Unfortunately, that's just not enough to save the film.
Features include: a commentary by director Matt Tauber; deleted scenes with optional commentary, and the Higher Definition: The Architect episode.
The Architect – Grade: D
Final Grade: C
Brothers of the Head
One of the most unlikely films of 2006 is Brothers of the Head – a mockumentary about the brief, fiery history of a punk band led by conjoined twins [joined at the liver]. Tom and Barry Howe [Harry and Luke Treadaway] are signed by a low-rent agent and set up in a house, with tutors, to become a band. The agent sees them a freakshow version of something like The Monkees, but they turn out to not only be talented, but of a particularly angry bent. Thus, when they find themselves being jeered during their first gig, they explode – screaming their lyrics and shredding their instruments, prompting a far better reaction.
As stories of this sort tent to go in real life, the tale of the Howe twins is short and blazing. They become a band, put together an album [which doesn't come out until after everything has gone to hell in the proverbial handbasket], have a few gigs and develop a lot of buzz – and then they're gone!
There are images – whole sequences, in fact – that feel like something David Lynch would do if he were to make a mockumentary about a fictional punk band composed of conjoined twins. That atmosphere is particularly evident during the band's first gig, when the brothers reveal their rather unusual connection – but several scenes in the band's house also have that peculiar texture.
Overall, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe have done a terrific job of taking a truly odd script and bringing it to life. Clearly, they have a feel for the music, and the kind of people who might've created it. Tony Grisoni's script deals with all the usual trappings of such lives: putting the band together, rehearsals, recording, gigging, groups, the press and so forth. The unusual thing about it is that he manages to keep his characters completely relatable.
Of course, the whole thing would fall apart if the lead roles weren't perfectly cast. Harry and Luke Treadaway are twins [though not conjoined], but they can act and sing. There was the matter of learning to fake playing a guitar – but the music, composed by Clive Langer, is extremely good and adds a level of verisimilitude that makes Brothers of the Head a rewarding experience on every level.
The only feature is a collection of about a dozen deleted scenes.
Brothers of the Head – Grade: A
Final Grade: B+