Callum Greene

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Second Best Review


OK
An embittered writer's movie about the coruscating damage of jealousy and the impossibility of finding nobility in failure, Second Best has a pretty good time with its characters, even with all the sad sacks on display. Written and directed by Eric Weber, it's all about Elliot Kelman (Joe Pantoliano), a former publishing executive who bombed out and returned to his small New Jersey hometown - more than a whiff of autobiography here, as Weber was once a big-city ad exec but now lives in a small town and writes screenplays - where he spends his time obsessing over his failure and that of his group of friends. As a means of getting his creative juices out (or simply rubbing his depression in everybody's face), Elliot writes a weekly missive about "The Loser," which he is too scared will be rejected and so just prints up several thousand of them and hires a high school kid to leave them around town. And so, Elliot's self-hating, barely-fictionalized musings about why he and others like him are failures, and why it's better to acknowledge that than delude themselves, flutter in the wind, taped to delicatessen windows, stuffed under windshield wipers, blowing down the street.

The big event awaited by Elliot's friends - a bum but friendly bunch that include a broke real estate agent, an ER doctor and an older guy with prostate cancer - is the arrival of their old friend, movie magnate Richard (Boyd Gaines), whose newest blockbuster just won a slew of Oscars. The jealousy that envelops all of is deadly, of course, but at least Richard lets them play at a nice golf course, so it's not all bad. Although Weber doesn't go the expected route by turning Richard into a preening Hollywood villain, that doesn't stop Elliot (who sells suits at the mall and cadges money from everybody he knows, including his nursing home-confined mother) from feeling bitterly resentful at his friend's wealth and success.

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This So-Called Disaster Review


Terrible
While he's better known as an actor with a distant, lonesome cowboy air about him, Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, Black Hawk Down) has for the past couple decades been one of America's greatest living playwrights - but you'd hardly know it from this film. Having cast Shepard as the ghost in his modern-day, Manhattan-set Hamlet (the Ethan Hawke one), director Michael Almereyda then agreed to make a documentary about the weeks of rehearsal leading up to the 2000 San Francisco premiere of Shepard's play, The Late Harry Moss. The play's cast is impressively star-heavy - Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, Cheech Marin - and one imagines that Almereyda thought he could simply act as a fly on the wall, catch these greats at work, throw in some interview bits, and have a compelling document on the creation of live theater.

Needless to say, things didn't turn out that way. One very large problem is that Almereyda is new to the documentary biz and doesn't seem to have figured out how things work. Normally a visual innovator in his films like Nadja and the aforementioned Hamlet, Almereyda leaves the camera static, hoping that his subjects will provide all the necessary drama. They don't. Penn looks to be in full Mr. Hollywood mode, reading a newspaper and barely paying attention, while a shaggier-than-usual Nolte is in the throes of some chemically-induced meltdown; Harrelson and Marin just look happy to have been asked along.

Continue reading: This So-Called Disaster Review

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