Reel Life mini-review: 'The Details'
The parts are far more interesting than the whole in Jacob Aaron Estes' second movie, a disjointed black comedy titled "The Details," but man, what parts.
Laura Linney practically heists the movie as Lila, a hilarious, neurotic, cat-loving nut job who lives next door to Tobey Maguire's Jeff Lang, a doctor and the protagonist of this odd and not-always-endearing look at a man's ethical considerations.
Jeff narrates the story of his ambivalence to his marriage with Nealy (Elizabeth Banks). They haven't made love in six months, although they appear to be OK with their lives and their young son.
Reportedly based on Estes' own experience, "The Details" studies a man who doesn't yet know what he stands for, so he winds up succumbing to affairs with Lila and his comely married college chum (Kerry Washington), despite that he still loves Nealy.
He's not a bad guy, this doctor. But even when he's doing something wonderful -- such as giving a kidney to his sick friend Lincoln (the always awe-inspiring Dennis Haysbert) -- the action still reeks of self-serving motives.
There's a running gag involving renegade raccoons ripping up the doctor's freshly laid sod, prompting him to break out the rat poison.
There's the shocking shot of a metaphorical piano that falls on Jeff, crushing him like Wile E. Coyote, expressing his feelings about the world at that moment.
The people who populate "The Details" are not particularly nice or even that interesting, perhaps because they are too-accurate recreations of the people Estes knows.
Nonetheless, this movie might be worth witnessing, if not for Estes' quirky, unsettled take on life, for Linney's wonderfully over-the-top performance as an unpredictable force of wild self-interest.
"The Details" opens exclusively at the iPic Aboretum in South Barrington. Rated R for drug use, language, sexual situations, violence. 91 minutes. ★ ★ ½
Reel Life mini-review: 'Brooklyn Castle'
We've seen this standard issue of documentary before: The cameras follow a triumphant group of dedicated students who buck the odds to achieve their dreams.
Fortunately, the admirable "Brooklyn Castle" transcends its formula to become an optimistic look at extracurricular education and young people. Director Katie Dellamaggiore delivers a respectable report on her subjects without succumbing to the tension-induced, rooting-for-the-underdog aspect of most films in this genre, which, admittedly, tend to favor sports players instead of chess players.
"Brooklyn Castle" tells the amazing story of Brooklyn's I.S. (Intermediate School) 318 where, despite 65 percent of students falling under the federal poverty line, the junior-high chess teams rank among the best in the nation.
Here, as one administrator points out, the geeks are the star athletes.
We meet cute James, a very young rapper on his way up the chess rankings. Rochelle, 13, wants to become the first black female to achieve the coveted status of a master champion. A portly kid named Pobo emanates ambition and leadership. A student named Patrick must overcome his ADHD in addition to his opponents.
We meet dedicated teacher Elizabeth Vicary, who puts in regular school hours, then coaches the kids in chess strategy at night and on the weekends, using chess to foster learning other subjects.
Here is a public school program that, despite its financial shortcomings, continues to work and thrive through a dedicated staff and supportive administration.
Dellamaggiore's doc captures the personalities, trials and triumphs of the kids, and for 102 minutes, the American educational system becomes amazingly humanized.
"Brooklyn Castle" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated PG. 102 minutes ★ ★ ★
Reel Life mini-review: 'Nobody Walks'
The idea behind Ry Russo-Young's leisurely paced domestic drama "Nobody Walks" is that the dull, routine lives of an L.A. family become turned upside down by the arrival of a New York artist whose natural sexuality sparks lust and romance in her wake.
Actually, the lives of everyone in "Nobody Walks" remain dull and generic even after artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby) arrives at the home of Peter (John Krasinski), a sound effects expert helping her complete her nature art movie involving ants.
Peter's wife Julie (Rosemary DeWitt) works as a therapist, and spends a lot of time fending off the advances of a screenwriting patient (Justin Kirk). She can't see the sexual collision course coming between her husband and Martine.
By the time Julie utters the fateful parting words to Martine, "Nobody from this house will ever contact you again" (or words to that effect), it's really too late for anyone in this movie to suddenly develop a strong personality.
"Nobody Walks" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated R for drug use, language and sexual situations. 82 minutes ★ ★
Make your day with us
Join me and film historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presents "Make My Day: The Films of Clint Eastwood," 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights. Free admission! With clips from significant Eastwood movies such as "Dirty Harry," "The Unforgiven," "Play Misty for Me," "Any Which Way But Loose" and others. Go to ahml.info or call (847) 392-0100.