Tag Archives: Paul Giamatti

American Splendor (2003, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman)

American Splendor has a little too much going on. Directors Berman and Pulcini seem to want to do something different–Splendor opens as a cross between a docu-comedy and an attempt at time period preciousness (which gets them into trouble later as the film doesn’t progress, visually, out of the eighties). Paul Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar from the sixties through the nineties. Harvey Pekar narrates and gets interviewed.

Berman and Pulcini don’t really give Giamatti a part so much as a comic book character. Splendor is the dramatized true story of Pekar, who dramatized his own life in a comic book. So it’s a comic book adaptation once removed or something. The filmmakers don’t actually do anything with it–Pekar, in the narration, recounts how he’d become a quirky, exploited outlier at the height of his eighties celebrity, but the filmmakers don’t do it much different.

Then Hope Davis shows up as Pekar’s wife. And Pekar’s wife shows up for a bit too in the interview sequences. If Berman and Pulcini only give Giamatti a caricature based on Pekar to play, they give Davis even less. When there is actual dramatic material–cancer, a foster child–the filmmakers go straight to summary. Splendor’s all artifice.

Maybe if Berman and Pulcini were better directors–Terry Stacey’s photography, presumably on location in economically depressed Cleveland saves a lot of the visuals–the film would work out better.

Giamatti’s really good, he just doesn’t have much material.

Splendor’s too slight.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman; screenplay by Springer Berman and Pulcini, based on comic books written by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner; director of photography, Terry Stacey; edited by Pulcini; music by Mark Suozzo; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope; released by HBO Films.

Starring Paul Giamatti (Harvey Pekar), Hope Davis (Joyce Brabner), James Urbaniak (Robert Crumb), Judah Friedlander (Toby Radloff), Joyce Brabner (Real Joyce) and Harvey Pekar (Real Harvey).


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Safe Men (1998, John Hamburg)

For a stupid comedy, Safe Men is pretty good.

Hamburg’s well-aware of what he’s doing and the film is stupid in a funny way. It’s about, basically, eight men and they’re all pretty dumb to a certain degree. Of the two smartest, one is a kid and the other is Steve Zahn, who’s character is in the film only to make the plot work in the third act.

Zahn and Sam Rockwell are a singing duo who model their dress after barbershop quartets (though there’s only two of them) and do inept low-key covers. The music angle isn’t important other than they’re bad (Hamburg even forgets he was going to bring it back at the end). They end up mistaken for safe crackers, which brings Paul Giamatti and Michael Lerner into the film.

Giamatti, who’s hilarious, plays Lerner’s well-meaning, if idiotic lackey. Lerner’s funny but mostly because of Hamburg’s dialogue (it’s well-written dumb content).

However, in smaller roles as the real safe crackers, Mark Ruffalo (in one of his exception performances) and Josh Pais (good, but no Ruffalo), are in the film as well.

Hamburg structures it around conversations, mostly between the men, usually in pairs (though sometimes Michael Schmidt and Harvey Fierstein show up). Rockwell’s got a love interest—Christina Kirk—and she’s good… only she’s a real person among these moronic, genial men.

Rockwell does a decent job in a difficult part.

Safe Men’s short. It could’ve gone longer, but it would’ve lost something.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Hamburg; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Suzanne Pillsbury and M. Scott Smith; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Anthony Gasparro; produced by Ellen Bronfman, Jeffrey Clifford, Jonathan Cohen and Andrew Hauptman; released by October Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Sam), Steve Zahn (Eddie), Michael Lerner (Big Fat Bernie Gayle), Paul Giamatti (Veal Chop), Michael Schmidt (Bernie Jr.), Christina Kirk (Hannah), Mark Ruffalo (Frank), Josh Pais (Mitchell), Harvey Fierstein (Leo) and Michael Showalter (Larry).


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The Amazing Screw-On Head (2006, Chris Prynoski)

Casting Paul Giamatti is a great idea, except when you get someone even more dynamic than him (it’s difficult, but possible) in a supporting role. Especially if it’s just Giamatti’s voice and you’re putting him up against David Hyde Pierce. Giamatti does fine for a while in The Amazing Screw-On Head, but then Pierce shows up and runs away with it. It doesn’t help Giamatti’s character is a stuffy, proper guy (albeit with a metal head and a variety of different robotic bodies), which gives Pierce all the hilarious dialogue.

The animation is all good—the overall design is what’s important and it looks great. Screw-On Head is set just before the Civil War, which we don’t see, and there’s a lot of cool retro technology.

While Screw-On Head basically works, it’s more fun to look at than anything else (except waiting for whatever Pierce says next).

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Prynoski; screenplay by Bryan Fuller, based on the comic book by Mike Mignola; edited by David W. Foster; music by Pierpaolo Tiano; produced by Susan Norkin; released by The Sci-Fi Channel.

Starring Paul Giamatti (Screw-On Head), David Hyde Pierce (Emperor Zombie), Patton Oswalt (Mr. Groin), Corey Burton (President Abraham Lincoln / Professor Faust), Mindy Sterling (Aggie / Geraldine) and guest starring Molly Shannon (Patience the Vampire).


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Paycheck (2003, John Woo)

Didn’t John Woo used to have a style? I mean, I know he had birds and he had the guns pointed at each other, but didn’t he have some style? He’s got no style in Paycheck, which ends up being one of the best movies John Badham never made.

It’s a complete time waster, the kind of thing people used to grow up on seeing on TV, fueled by competent direction (without style, Woo’s inoffensive most of the time and only stupid–the birds–once or twice) and a fine leading man performance from Ben Affleck. While he’s never going to be believable as super genius (the idea of Uma Thurman as a PhD is as hilarious as Will Smith as one), he’s sturdy as an engineer.

Most of the supporting cast–Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton–is solid. Aaron Eckhart’s not doing anything special here but he isn’t being terrible either. The script isn’t deep enough to let him. Michael C. Hall and Kathryn Morris are both pretty bad, but neither are in it too much. Peter Friedman appears to be wearing a lot of make-up. He’s not good, but the make-up distracts.

The script’s problematic–the concept isn’t cool as a near future movie and would have worked much better firmed up in reality–but serviceable. John Powell’s music is rather effective.

The whole movie hinges on Affleck being a movie star and Affleck is a movie star and it works.

It’s a fine diversion.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; screenplay by Dean Georgaris, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick; directors of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball and Gregory Lundsgaard; edited by Christopher Rouse and Kevin Stitt; music by John Powell; production designer, William Sandell; produced by John Davis, Michael Hackett, Terence Chang and Woo; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Ben Affleck (Jennings), Aaron Eckhart (Rethrick), Uma Thurman (Rachel), Paul Giamatti (Shorty), Colm Feore (Wolfe), Joe Morton (Agent Dodge), Michael C. Hall (Agent Klein), Peter Friedman (Attorney General Brown) and Kathryn Morris (Rita Dunne).


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