Back Row Reviews: Movie Reviews by James Dawson

Back Row Reviews
James Dawson



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The Yards
(Reviewed August 25, 2000, by James Dawson)

If you're looking for a relentlessly bleak, cheerless, complete downer of a movie, look no further than this grim-'n'-gritty insomnia aid. Sullen parolee Leo (Mark Wahlberg) stumbles woodenly into Big Trouble after falling in with The Wrong Crowd when he goes home to his old lower-class neighborhood. Joaquin Phoenix plays Willie, a cheap, gladhanding slickee-boy. (Rather a comedown for Phoenix from playing a Roman emperor in "Gladiator," but he does get to do a love scene in which Charlize Theron is briefly, gloriously TOPLESS, which must have been some compensation.) Charlize Theron's listless, drugged-looking Erica is both Leo's cousin and the love of his life, which sounds a lot more interesting than it plays on the screen.
The shoe polish budget on this film must have been astronomical, because Phoenix, Theron, and even Theron's character's kid brother have hair that is dyed blacker than midnight in a coal mine. Also, Phoenix's character is supposed to be Latino, which strains credibility a tad. I have no idea what Phoenix's real ethnicity is, but he looks a lot more more like Brian Austin Green of "Beverly Hills 90210" than like Antonio Banderas.
Not really a bad film, but one that sure won't make you leave the theater laughing and singing, either. If you have a real desire to feel lousy, by all means, go.

Back Row Reviews Grade: C

Year of the Dog
(Reviewed March 29, 2007, by James Dawson)

Molly Shannon becomes increasingly animal-rights obsessed after the death of her beloved beagle in this strange, subdued and somewhat sad little comedy by writer/director Mike White.

And any movie that can be described as a "sad little comedy" obviously is something...different.

"Year of the Dog" almost felt like a "Todd Solondz lite" flick, it that it manages to be both amusing and disturbing in a low-key fashion. The humor here is dark -- nothing like White's exuberant script for "School of Rock" -- mainly consisting of Shannon's awkwardness about being constantly disappointed in her work, friends and would-be romantic encounters.

John C. Reilly is a neighbor with a love of hunting and a thing for knives. Peter Sarsgaard (looking like Ewan MacGregor's separated-at-birth twin) is a celibate SPCA volunteer who relates better to dogs than to people.

Definitely worth a look, but definitely out of the ordinary.

Back Row Reviews Grade: B-

(Reviewed June 18, 2005, by James Dawson)

Much as I hate myself, I nevertheless could not bear to suffer the excruciating self-torture of watching more than 15 minutes of this unimaginably awful movie.

The gimmick of "Yes" is that all of its dialog is rendered in laughably arch and excruciatingly labored rhyme. If you think that sitting through a Shakespeare play's utterly unnatural iambic pentameter is tough, try enduring 99 minutes of the stuff that's NOT written by the bard. If you make it past the quarter-hour mark without running from the room with your hands clasped tightly over your ears, you are a better man than I, my friend.

Writer/director Sally Potter has claimed that "what people were saying in Telluride was that `Yes' was the hit of the festival, or at least one of the hits of the festival." The only way anybody could call this movie anything but a pretentious, repulsive bore would be if he were (a) receiving energetic oral sex during the screening, (b) high on black tar heroin or (c) certifiably insane.

I wouldn't be surprised to see screenings of "Yes" used in a "Fear Factor" challenge next season. ("Come on, Jack, you can make it! Just sit through another minute and you'll win the $50,000! Hang in there, buddy! Oh, no -- he clawed his eyes out before the first reel change!")

Then again, maybe the last 84 minutes that I missed were swell. God knows I'm not brave enough to find out.

Although I can't give a grade to something I didn't have the stomach to finish watching, my strong advice is to stay away. This I most fervently prithee.

Back Row Reviews Grade: N/A

Yes Man
(Reviewed by James Dawson)

I wrote this review for the website, where you can read it by clicking this link:
"Yes Man" review

Back Row Reviews Grade: D

You Don't Mess With the Zohan
(Reviewed June 4, 2008, by James Dawson)

Pretty bad Adam Sandler comedy about a less edgy (and much less funny) Borat who wants to give up his career as a legendarily impressive Israeli army soldier to live his secret dream as a New York hairdresser.

There are a few laughs, such as when Sandler goes way-over-the-top gigolo with a salon's not exactly toothsome patrons in an extended style-'em and screw-'em montage. And his skinny-busty beauty of a boss (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is young-Salma-Hayek super-hot (even though there is absolutely no female nudity in the flick).

But most of the gags fall in the crude-and-stupid category typified by producer Judd Apatow, who cowrote "Zohan" with Sandler and Robert Smigel. And wow, does this movie feel lonnnnnng. The basic commando-goes-stylist idea may have worked as a five-minute "Saturday Night Live" sketch, but padding it out to two hours with everything from a voracious property developer subplot to an awkwardly stilted cameo by Mariah Carey makes it a real endurance test.

Back Row Reviews Grade: D+

You Kill Me
(Reviewed June 21, 2007)

Low-key, deadpan and very enjoyable comedy about a taciturn hitman (Ben Kingsley) whose drinking problem is affecting his work. He leaves Buffalo for San Francisco to clean up his act by joining AA and working as a mortuary assistant until he's back up to snuff, so to speak.

As a bonus, he manages to find love with a younger woman (Tea Leoni) who has a black but beautiful sense of humor. Leoni is so incredibly likeable, sweet and pretty that it's easy to see why even a loner like Kingsley would fall for her at first sight. When Kingsley confesses that it's hard for him to meet people, Leoni replies that she thought workers in the mortuary biz had a way of "making do." The way she cracks up at her own line is almost as funny as the line itself.

Luke Wilson is Kingsley's gay AA sponsor, which sounds like a setup for a lot of stupid gay-panic homophobia that thankfully doesn't materialize. Although the plot easily could have degenerated into sitcom-level stupidity, it manages to be more of an amusing character study than a laugh-a-minute barrage.

Director John Dahl ("The Last Seduction," "Joy Ride") does a great job of balancing offbeat romance, quirky humor and some actual mob-style violence without letting the movie fly apart. The screenplay is by the unlikely duo of Chris Markus and Steve McFeely -- unlikely because their last credit was for writing "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Man, talk about range!


Back Row: Grade: B

You, Me and Dupree
(Reviewed June 30, 2006, by James Dawson)

Hey, I'm sorry, but I simply cannot give an "F" to a movie that includes shots of Kate Hudson in (a) a see-through nightgown and blue underwear, (b) a white cotton tank top and matching panties, and (c) a hot black swimsuit that shows off the smooth, goddess-like cheeks of her frankly flawless backside so deliciously.

I've never been a fan of Hudson's acting, but respect must be paid to a body that slim-and-sexy. And she's had a kid! Holy snap-back, Batman!

As for the rest of the movie: Not five minutes into the proceedings, I leaned over and said, "Y'know, I'm kind of getting sick of Owen Wilson." Once again, Wilson plays a genially dumb slacker. This time he's the "Gilligan" to newlyweds Hudson and Matt Dillon, becoming their long-term houseguest shortly after the wedding. In other words, he plays a character who is such a destructive fuck-up that it's impossible to believe he would not be sent packing, or simply killed, within hours of his arrival.

It's kind of sad when the best thing about a movie is the lead actress' ass, glimpsed for roughly five seconds during a fantasy scene.

But we sophisticated critics takes our pleasures where we finds 'em.

Back Row Reviews Grade: D+

Young Adult
(Reviewed December 9, 2011, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this for the website, and you can read that review by clicking this link:
"Young Adult" review
Back Row Reviews Grade: A

Your Sister's Sister
(Reviewed June 14, 2012, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this for the website, and you can read that review by clicking this link:
"Your Sister's Sister" review
Back Row Reviews Grade: D

Youth in Revolt
(Reviewed Jamuary 3, 2010)

I really enjoyed this offbeat, European-flavored but unexpectedly all-American teen sex comedy. Michael Cera stars in the dual role of an awkward virgin and the mustachioed, chain-smoking misogynist imaginary friend who gives him advice on the ways of women and the wicked world.

This review really should be longer, but I have to go remove an elephant from my living room. Just trust me and see the damned thing.

Back Row Reviews Grade: B

Youth Without Youth
(Reviewed October 14, 2007)

Review to come, but hey, at least I gave it a grade already. I'll say this much now: Beautiful sets, amazing locations, but a story that's nearly as densely dumb and metaphysically meatheaded as "The Fountain." A real letdown from director Francis Ford Coppola.

Back Row Reviews Grade: D