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Catch-Up Reviews for Early Summer 2006:

Keeping up with the Steins



Rated PG-13 | 99 mins


     A genial, casual independent comedy trying to cash-in on the similar ethnic-antics of Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Keeping up with the Steins is as witty as a good sitcom, if never much more. It follows the days leading up to young Benjamin Fiedler’s (Spy Kids’ Daryl Sabara) bar-mitzvah, which prove mighty testing on the obsessive-compulsive personalities of his family. Theme-wise, Keeping up with the Steins embraces only the “be yourself” conventionalities which typically consume this type of material. However, it redeems itself by offering quite a few big laughs, which are cleverly scripted by Mark Zakarin. Viewers will often find themselves celebrating Zakarin’s uncanny humor, especially during the film’s opening sequence, in which a boy enters his Titanic-themed bar-mitzvah party playing the role of Leo DiCaprio, as an audience of his friends and family admire his sheer ridiculousness. While not anything to rave over, Keeping up with the Steins is a pleasant diversion from everyday life; it can be enjoyed by even those who know not the least bit about Jewish Culture.


X-Men: The Last Stand



Rated PG-13 | 104 mins


     Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand is about as different a movie from Bryan Singer’s X-Men and X2 as a third installment in the popular franchise could’ve possibly been. However, contrary to what my instincts had suggested when I first watched its extended-trailer, this change in style did not turn out to offer a boost in quality. Singer’s hefty, overwrought approach in the first two films has been abandoned by Ratner; this X-Men’s running-length clocks in substantially shorter than those of the other ones. Unfortunately, the new director’s different methods take fixing the flaws found in The Last Stand’s predecessors to an uncomforting extreme. Ratner’s efforts have contributed to a leaner final product, but by no means have they created the triumph that this film needed in order to function as a worthy conclusion to the series. As I watched the movie, I felt as though I was simply witnessing stills flow through a projector; never was I moved by the fact that it would mark the last time that I would see all of the X-Men together, kicking butt on a single, giant cinema-screen. In fact, there were only a few times throughout the film’s duration that I became truly immersed in the material and entertained. (However, this goes without saying that Magneto moving the Golden Gate Bridge is something else entirely.) The Last Stand’s special effects are consistently amazing and the cast always seems to be jived up about the material, but I couldn’t get into the majority of it. I entered the screening of it that I attended optimistically, but as I walked out of it, my knowledge of the fact that there may be Wolverine and Magneto movies on the way left me with only one expression in tow: rolling eyes.


Nacho Libre



Rated PG | 100 mins


     You can say what you want about Jared Hess’ Cultural Phenomenon of a debut film, Napoleon Dynamite, but its success speaks for itself. The movie—which was made for less than a million dollars—first took Sundance audiences by storm, was then screened for anyone who reserved free online-tickets for showings of it (that’s where I first met up with it), and finally ended up making Fox Searchlight a killing on both box-office sales and DVD rentals and purchases. Now, Hess, who is only twenty-six-years-old, has made his second feature, Nacho Libre. This time, his budget is considerably bigger—sixty times bigger, in fact—and rather than small-town dry-charmer Jon Heder at his side to fill the starring role, he has big-time funny-man Jack Black.

     For the most part, Nacho Libre, which parodies the sheer nuttiness of Lucha Libre Mexican Wrestling, works. It doesn’t have the “out of left field” surprise-effect that Napoleon Dynamite did—its promotional materials have been storming primetime TV-commercials and cinema trailer-reels for the past few weeks—but it is often just as hilarious. Black depicts Nacho, the closet-wrestler Friar of a protagonist, as quite the lovable loser. His performance, in tight harmony with Hess’ clever direction, allows Nacho’s character to always remain likable, if equally as pathetic. The audience cares for him, but never has a problem laughing at his gut-wrenching stupidity.

     Structurally, Nacho Libre is about as close to a series of sketches featuring the same characters and themes as a linear film can possibly be, but the aimlessness provoked by this never bogs it down to an extent at which it becomes boring. There is enough humorous ridiculousness found in the material that the movie remains consistently amusing throughout its duration. And while it may not offer much more than such amusement, Nacho Libre is certainly the most original and effectively deadpan comedy I have seen since…well, Napoleon Dynamite.


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