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updated: 7/12/2012 7:43 AM

Chicago-shot 'Drunkboat' a pretentious mess

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  • A scam artist (John Goodman) offers some Cutty Sark to Uncle Mort (John Malkovich) in Bob Meyer's Chicago-shot drama "Drunkboat."

      A scam artist (John Goodman) offers some Cutty Sark to Uncle Mort (John Malkovich) in Bob Meyer's Chicago-shot drama "Drunkboat."

  • Video: Drunkboat trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: 'Drunkboat'

Bob Meyer's quirky, locally produced, star-packed domestic drama "Drunkboat" has been trying to dock at local theaters for two years now, and the reason for the wait is fairly evident: It's a pretentious mess.

Yet, it contains explosively colorful, carefully composed images from cinematographer Lisa Rinzler, plus a classic vanity-challenged John Malkovich performance of such monumental hamminess that the film acquires an inspired sense of demented whimsy.

Set mostly in Morton Grove, "Drunkboat" tells the coming-of-age tale of two family members. Teenage Abe (Jacob Zachar) wants to sail away to Africa by purchasing a beat-up sailboat from a shifty con man and black market Cutty Sark salesman (John Goodman).

Abe needs an adult to sign the sales contract. He waits until his single mother (Dana Delany) takes off for the day, then asks his visiting nomadic alcoholic uncle Mort (Malkovich) to do him a favor.

Malkovich's Mort burns up a lot of screen time mesmerizing the camera with slack-jawed expressions of emptiness. He mutters stuff about being messed up as a result of a tour of duty in Vietnam.

The dots are there. But Meyer doesn't seem all that interested in connecting them.

A freak lightning storm supplies a symbolic act of God in the final reel, cementing Meyer's fascination for events and dialogue better suited to onstage artifice than to cinematic realism.

"Drunkboat" opens at the Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg and the River East in Chicago. Rated PG. 97 minutes. ★ ★

'Welcome to clichés'

More evidence that Hollywood screenwriters live in one big creatively incestuous world where clichés and catchphrases are indiscriminately recycled over and over in movie after movie.

Ever notice the number of times characters will say, "Welcome to (fill in pithy location or cute witticism)"? Coasting screenwriters really overdose on this one. Here's a recent sampling of how bad it can get.

"Welcome to the barrio!" Benicio Del Toro says in "Savages."

"Welcome to the recession!" John Travolta says in "Savages."

"Welcome to middle age!" John Travolta says in "Savages."

"Welcome to the neighborhood!" Seth Rogen says in "Take This Waltz"

"Welcome to Osborne!" Emma Stone says in "The Amazing Spider-Man"

"Welcome to the crazy club here!" Channing Tatum says in "Magic Mike"

"Welcome to the family!" Rufus Sewell says in "Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter"

Those are just the recent uses of this verbal crutch. In the past, we've also heard it a zillion times.

"Welcome to the program!" Albert Finney says in "The Bourne Legacy"

"Welcome to the '90s, Mr. Banks!" Martin Short says in "Father of the Bride"

"Welcome to the club, kid!" Brandon Routh says in "Crooked Arrows"

"Welcome to rock bottom!" David Hasselhoff says in "Piranha 3DD"

For a bigger list of Hollywood verbal crutches, go to girewire.com and look up "100 Ways to Get a Bad Review." It's a work in progress.

Reel Life critic's notes

• Join me for a celebration of Steven Spielberg's classic shark tale "Jaws" on the silver screen at 8 p.m. Friday, July 13, at Muvico Theater, 9701 Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont. I'll say some introductory remarks before we view this digitally remastered movie to be shown in 4-K projection with 7.1 surround sound. "Jaws" will also be shown at 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday. This will be the first in a series of Muvico-sponsored classic films. Go to bit.ly/NotZeO.

• Paul Verhoeven's 1987 "RoboCop," a terrific, modern reinvention of a classic Greek tragedy masquerading as science-fiction, will be presented on the silver screen one time only at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Streets of Woodfield Theater in Schaumburg. The event is sponsored by efilmcritic.com and will be hosted by Erik Childress, Peter Sobczynski and Collin Souter of the Chicago Film Critics Association. Go to www.tugg.com/events/827.

• Jim Hemphill grew up in Naperville and became an independent filmmaker after attending Chicago's Columbia College. He's got a new movie coming out titled "The Trouble With the Truth," starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. It played last year at the Naperville Independent Film Festival.

"It was a real labor of love for all of us," Hemphill told me by email. "The Trouble With the Truth" begins a theatrical release Sept. 14. But you can see it first at a special preview at 7 p.m. Monday at the Ogden 6 in Naperville. Hemphill will be there in person to conduct a Q&A after his movie.

For theater information, go to bit.ly/NgkRJY. See the trailer at bit.ly/xDeiW6.

• "Hello I Must Be Going," a new movie featuring "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" star Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein, will have its Illinois premiere at the third annual Blue Whiskey Film Festival July 24-29 at the Cutting Hall Performing Arts Center, 150 E. Wood St., Palatine.

At least 33 films will be screened, among them Palatine's Fremd High School alum Steve Coulter's "The Diet Situation," a short about two friends who start a diet, but one can't stop fantasizing about her guilty pleasure. Go to bwiff.com for schedules and tickets.

Reel Life mini-review: 'Take This Waltz'

Sarah Polley's domestic drama "Take This Waltz" might as well be subtitled "Autopsy of a Relationship." Polley, who directs and writes, captures with microscopic scrutiny the telltale signs that suggest to us what married couple Lou and Margot (Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams) do not see: They're not made for each other.

She works as a freelancer and he cooks up all sorts of chicken dishes as the author of cookbooks. Their personal clocks never synch-up. They sleep all wrong together. He's too busy basting to notice she's putting the moves on him.

While out of town (that would be Toronto) Margo meets a man named Daniel (Luke Kirby). Sparks fly. They nearly complete each other's sentences. It's a perfect Carly Rae Jepsen moment for Margot to say, "I've just met you. This is crazy, but here's my number!"

She resists.

Then, they discover they live across the street from each other. Now, Hannibal Lecter's rule kicks in: You covet what you see every day.

Indie actress Polley burst into the directorial ranks with her sensitive, attentive Alzheimer's drama "Away From Her." "Take This Waltz" is another visually assured, insightful work, but also more problematic.

Williams can be a charismatic chameleon, but her Margot comes off as a tepidly likable character not helped by a sexually bold sequence near the end that replaces true love's affection with a pitch for personal freedom and experimental choice.

Margot is no pleaser, and Williams bleeds her character of schmaltz and sentiment in a tough-love manner that never rings false.

Rogen is the story in this cast. He proves he possesses a set of powerful acting chops to go with his avuncular hard-wiring.

Sarah Silverman also provides an engaging performance as Lou's alcoholic sister Geraldine, although her explosive subplot near the end throws the drama just enough off-kilter that it almost falls over.

"Take This Waltz" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated R for language, sexual situations. 116 minutes. ★ ★ ½

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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