Peace, love, not much else - The Explorer: El Sol

Peace, love, not much else

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Posted: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:26 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Associated Press

'Taking Woodstock'

Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual content, drug use and language. 120 min. Two stars out of four.

They aren't words you hear very often: an Ang Lee comedy. He hasn't really made one since he directed "The Wedding Banquet” and "Eat Drink Man Woman” back-to-back in 1993 and 1994.

And so, on the heels of the emotionally heavy "Brokeback Mountain” and "Lust, Caution,” Lee lightens up — and the result is actually too lightweight. He approaches the fabled concert from an outsider's angle, which is innovative; truly, the significance of Woodstock has been chronicled ad naueseam, especially lately upon its 40th anniversary.

But in telling the story of the people who inadvertently launched the event, Lee leaves out the substance. Rather, he ambles amiably among these motley figures, with civic leader Elliot Teichberg (comic Demetri Martin) at the center. When Robert Altman used this structural tactic — and he did it often — it still felt cohesive, like an intricate but subtle dance.

"Taking Woodstock,” by comparison, feels scattershot and incomplete. The script from Lee's longtime collaborator James Schamus, based on Elliot Tiber's book, traces the pieces that fell into place to make Woodstock happen.

Elliot, a New York City interior designer, happens to have moved back home with his Russian immigrant parents (Henry Goodman and an over-the-top Imelda Staunton) to help them salvage their run-down Catskills motel.

An arts and music festival in a neighboring town happens to have lost its permit. As president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, Elliot thinks it would boost the economy to play host instead — and he just happens to know a guy named Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) with a 600-acre dairy farm, the perfect place for such an event.

'Big Fan'

Rated R for language and some sexuality. 85 min. Three stars out of four.

Jim Rome urges his listeners (or "clones,” as he so lovingly calls them) to have solid takes, to bring it, when they dial into his sports talk radio show.

Patton Oswalt's character in "Big Fan,” Paul Aufiero, ensures that his takes are solid because they are his raison d'etre.

A portly Staten Island parking garage attendant stuck in his childhood home with his mother at age 35, Paul lives and dies for the New York Giants, and spends each day at work in his little metal box honing the arguments he'll make about his beloved football team during his favorite sports talk radio show each night.

Paul Aufiero feels completely believable in the hands of Robert Siegel, writer of the equally stripped-down and realistic "The Wrestler,” who wrote the script and makes his directing debut here.

Siegel has captured a very specific fan: the kind who refers to his team as "we,” who derives confidence from walking around the neighborhood in his puffy red-and-blue jacket and prepares all week for a few hours on Sunday. You could describe him as pathetic in his arrested development, his lack of perspective.

But Oswalt, best known for his comedy and his starring voice work in the animated "Ratatouille,” brings enough depth to the character to make you feel sorry for him.

'World's Greatest Dad'

Rated R for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images. 99 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

This is tricky: How to talk about the latest comedy from Bobcat Goldthwait without giving away all its twists and twisted details?

"World's Greatest Dad” is extremely dark and daring and definitely not for everyone, but it shows that with his third film as writer and director, Goldthwait is honing a unique and fearless voice, and that's exciting to see.

Robin Williams stars as Lance Clayton, a loser of a high-school poetry teacher. He'd dreamed of fame and fortune as a novelist; instead, he can only get a handful of students to sign up for his elective course while the young, popular creative writing teacher (Henry Simmons) finds his classroom packed.

Lance's 15-year-old son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), is among the students who view him with disdain; then again, Kyle is a vile human being.

All he cares about are video games and graphic porn, and he bullies the only friend he's got. A freak accident alters both of their profiles on campus, a social shift that Lance exploits in hideous ways.

Goldthwait finds enough clever ways into that joke to make it fresh, and he makes you curious to see how far he's willing to push it.

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