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Review: Dean Spanley, Big Stan, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Welcome to the Sticks

By March 5, 2009December 31st, 2013No Comments

My favour­ite post-Oscars quote came from David Thomson in The Guardian: “When the Slumdog mob – Europeans and Indians, adults and kids – took the stage to claim the best pic­ture Oscar, a land­mark was being estab­lished which dir­ectly reflects America’s reduced place in the world.” And as if to illus­trate that very point, this week Hollywood have offered us a piteous pris­on com­edy called Big Stan and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. It’s like they aren’t even try­ing anymore.

Big Stan posterBig Stan is the debut fea­ture by com­ic act­or Rob Schneider, best-known for a pair of ghastly adult com­ed­ies fea­tur­ing his hap­less male pros­ti­tute alter-ego Deuce Bigelow. Schneider amaz­ingly main­tains a sol­id career (largely via the pat­ron­age of his great friend Adam Sandler) but there’s no sat­is­fact­ory explan­a­tion for how he was let loose with a cam­era except that Hollywood is genu­inely out of ideas.

Schneider plays a real estate con man who is con­victed and sen­tenced to jail. Terrified at the pro­spect of immin­ent anal rape he enlists a mar­tial arts mas­ter (David Carradine) to make him, er, impreg­nable. Like being punched in the swing­ers by an angry dwarf for 90 minutes.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno official siteZack and Miri Make a Porno is exactly what it says on the tin – room­mates and best friends since High School, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks need money fast and decide to enter the porn busi­ness. Living in freez­ing, sub­urb­an Pennsylvania is barely an obstacle, nor is their lack of exper­i­ence. What does get in the way (and you can see this com­ing a mile-off so it’s hardly a spoil­er) are their own sup­pressed feel­ings for each oth­er. Kevin Smith is an enthu­si­ast for great films – he just doesn’t make them any more (if he ever did).

Dean Spanley posterDean Spanley is a delight­ful, semi-local, sur­prise dir­ec­ted by No. 2’s Toa Fraser and star­ring Sam Neill, Bryan Brown and Peter O’Toole. Once a week Fisk Jr (Jeremy Northam) duti­fully vis­its his iras­cible old fath­er (O’Toole). On an out­ing to hear an Indian swami talk about rein­carn­a­tion they meet Dean Spanley (Neill) who, when suit­ably lub­ric­ated, reveals his own exper­i­ences with rein­carn­a­tion (or his own men­tal befuddle­ment depend­ing on your point of view).

Utterly charm­ing, mov­ing and sweet, Dean Spanley is a very safe bet for a night out. Fraser is a dir­ect­or with a sure touch and O’Toole is noth­ing less than a magi­cian – I can’t think of a bet­ter word for the spell he casts in this film.

Welcome to the Sticks posterWelcome to the Sticks is the biggest film ever to hit France, and an American remake is under­stand­ably on the way, but des­pite it’s easy-going drollery it is the same film they’ve been mak­ing in France for years: urb­an soph­ist­ic­ate gets les­sons in liv­ing from down-to-earth ‘real’ people (taxi drivers, garden­ers or car valets and in this case post­men). Kad Merad is a Post Office man­ager under pres­sure from his wife to get a pro­mo­tion to some­where glam­or­ous – the Riviera per­haps. Instead he is trans­ferred to unfash­ion­able Bergues in the far north where his fears of a cul­tur­al and cli­mat­ic no man’s land don’t quite come true.

The film relies very hard on it’s tried and true fish-out-of-water schtick but the bois­ter­ous camarader­ie between the char­ac­ters means it eas­ily wins you over in the end.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 4 March, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Big Stan and Zack and Miri were at Readings dur­ing sparsely atten­ded pub­lic ses­sions. Dean Spanley was also at Readings, this time a Glengarry’s pre­view. Welcome to the Sticks has been out a couple of weeks but I’ve only just got to it – a raucus Sunday after­noon ses­sion at the Lighthouse in Petone. They loved it.