Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Sarah Silverman gives an impressive dramatic performance in I Smile Back, a clumsy effort from director Adam Salky.

Silverman is Laney, a troubled housewife married to a successful insurance man, Bruce (Josh Charles, who was supremely awesome in Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp). She seemingly has it all—but some daddy issues have left her an emotional wreck. She guzzles wine, snorts drugs in the bathroom and screws strangers in basements. Things get even worse when she decides to quit taking her lithium.

Salky’s directorial style is, at best, flat, which doesn’t serve the sincere effort by Silverman. The comedic actress shows she can easily handle the heavy stuff, but Laney’s story is well-worn and not all that interesting. The film errs by trying to explain her behavior too much; sometimes, things are better left for the audience to figure out.

The clichés are bountiful in this one, and they wind up stranding Silverman in a movie that is beneath her performance.

I Smile Back is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Nothing cinematically sucks more than a comedy that makes you yawn.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is one of the summer movie season’s biggest bummers. Seth MacFarlane’s second feature directorial effort (after the breezy and hilarious Ted) is a lumbering enterprise. It’s not awful, and it does have its share of giggles, but it can’t be classified as anything close to a good movie. That’s a kick in the balls, because some slicker editing and a dial-back on the gross-out gags could’ve kept this thing closer to 90 minutes (instead of nearly two hours) and would have gotten rid of the moments that go too far.

Like Mel Brooks with the classic Blazing Saddles, MacFarlane tried to make a satirical Western that truly looks and feels like a Western. He gets the cinematography right, but his tempo is way off. While Blazing Saddles had the exuberance of a grand Western, MacFarlane’s dependence on comic violence and slow pacing feels like he’s trying to make something like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, but funny. It doesn’t work.

MacFarlane plays Albert, a snarky, ahead-of-his-time guy trying to survive in the great American West. He’s a sheep farmer, but he’s terrible at it; one of his animals constantly winds up on his roof. He’s always getting into trouble with his wise mouth, and his inability to stand up for himself in manly gunfights has earned the ire of his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).

After getting dumped, Albert is determined to win Louise back. Enter newcomer Anna (a stunningly sweet Charlize Theron), who befriends Albert and tutors him in the ways of women. She also must show Albert how to shoot a gun after he challenges the evil Foy (Neil Patrick Harris)—Louise’s extravagantly mustachioed and arrogant new beau—to a gunfight.

Instead of going for something goofy with the relationship between Albert and Anna, MacFarlane tries to make their budding romance feel “real.” It is completely out of place in a movie like this. And, let’s face it: MacFarlane has his charms, but he doesn’t seem like a likely romantic partner for Theron. They look unintentionally funny together, like Peter Brady trying to kiss Marilyn Monroe.

Liam Neeson appears in the thankless role of Clinch, a resident killer and the husband of Anna (unbeknownst to Albert). Neeson sneers his way through his role with nothing funny to do, unless you regard the sight of him having a daisy shoved in his butt as funny.

A subplot involving a hooker (Sarah Silverman) and her virgin boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi) is full of jokes too obvious and too old for them, although they try hard to rise above the material. (I did like the moment in which Ribisi referenced his deranged dance moves from Ted.)

MacFarlane drags out some gags way too long. For example, Neil Patrick Harris crapping in hats after ingesting laxative powder is kind of funny. However, we don’t need to see the results of an accident spill out of a hat. As for the violence, the first few deaths get laughs, but they grow tiresome, fast.

MacFarlane’s attempt to emulate Mel Brooks has fallen flat. He has Ted 2 on the boards as a producer. He should just go ahead and direct that film, and return to some familiar territory for recalibrating. If he were to, say, announce a Frankenstein or Robin Hood spoof in the near future, that would be a bad sign.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Nikita (Friday, Nov. 22, The CW), final-season premiere: Before Arrow came along, Nikita was the only viable action series on The CW; Maggie Q’s titular character is every bit the ass-kicker The Not Green Arrow is, all while weighing in lighter than one of his jade hoodies. The complicated/convoluted (complivuted?) tale of a former agent’s war on the evil quasi-governmental operation that created her comes to an end with this fourth and final season—which is only six episodes long. (The final two, airing in the holiday burn-off dead zone of Dec. 20 and 27, are “Bubble” and “Canceled”—ha!) The ever-twisting conspiracy against Nikita “goes higher” than target villainess Amanda (Melinda Clarke), of course. The Only TV Column That Matters™ believes this overlooked series will wrap more satisfyingly than, say, Chuck or Burn Notice did with twice as many farewell hours. Netflix it, latecomers.

Lucas Bros. Moving Co.; Golan the Insatiable (Saturday, Nov. 23, Fox), series debuts (preview): Fox’s late-night Animation Domination High-Def “answer” to Adult Swim—and “competition” to Saturday Night Live—finally introduces two more shows to follow-up Axe Cop (solidly weird) and High School USA! (half-baked, but admirably offensive): Lucas Bros. Moving Co., about twin brothers (voiced by actual twin comics Kenny and Keith Lucas) who, you guessed it, start their own moving company; and Golan the Insatiable, about a monster from another dimension trapped on suburban Earth and befriended by a 10-year-old goth girl. Like 80 percent of Adult Swim shows, neither is fully realized out of the gate, but the potential for at least a fraction of Axe Cop greatness is there—and they contain at least as much funny as the average SNL episode. These shows preview tonight before returning in January.

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (Saturday, Nov. 23, BBC America), two-hour special: Like you need me to tell you about this, Whovians.

Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles (Saturday, Nov. 23, HBO), standup special: Filmed in front of an audience of 39 (!) at Los Angeles’ Largo in May, We Are Miracles is a more-straight-forward standup performance than the comic’s wacktastic 2005 Jesus Is Magic concert film, or the sadly short-lived Sarah Silverman Program. We Are Miracles won’t receive the HBO-comeback fanfare that Louis C.K.’s Oh My God did earlier this year, but Silverman’s cheerfully biting riffs on everything from porn to Obama are just as pointed and funny, but more subtle and steeped in ’90s ironicism (which Silverman still wears better than most of her contemporaries). If only she hadn’t filmed this before the rise and fall of twerking …

Getting On; Ja’mie: Private School Girl (Sunday, Nov. 24, HBO), series debuts: After the sure-to-be-hilarious Season 4 finale of Boardwalk Empire, HBO debuts a pair of oddball short-run comedies that are perfect reminders of how creatively risk-averse, say, Showtime tends to be. Getting On is set in a Long Beach women’s extended-care facility (read: a home for old ladies running out the clock) that works as a dark hospital comedy more so than Showtime’s Nurse Jackie or Netflix’s Derek, thanks largely to TV veterans Alex Borstein (the voice of Family Guy’s Lois Griffin) and Laurie Metcalf (The Big Bang Theory, Roseanne). On the less-morbid mirth side, Ja’ime: Private School Girl would be funny even if it wasn’t 40-something male show creator/director Chris Lilley playing teen-girl Ja’mie (pronounced “Juh-may,” of course).


Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

A documentary about the great ’70s band you’ve never heard of that inspired all of the ’80s bands you’re somewhat familiar with. Includes previously unseen footage and interviews, because everything about Big Star is previously unseen. (Magnolia)

Breaking Bad: The Complete Series

It’s the epic tale of a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who became a meth kingpin with the help of a former student (Aaron Paul) and—spoiler—several doomed associates. All 62 episodes and 55 hours of extras (!) come in—spoiler—a handy black barrel. (Sony)

The Canyons

When a trust-fund film producer (James Deen) finds out his girlfriend (Lindsay Lohan) is banging her co-star—without letting him watch—unpleasantness and Acting! ensue in Lohan’s sexiest movie role since Herbie: Fully Loaded. (MPI)

Please Kill Mr. Know It All

An anonymous newspaper columnist (Lara Jean Chorostecki) unwittingly falls in love with a hit man (Jefferson Brown) who’s been hired to kill her alter ego. Lessons: Love conquers all, and somebody’s apparently still reading newspapers. (Monarch)

Red 2

The geezers (Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren) and the MILF (Mary-Louise Parker) set out on another mission—this time to 1) retrieve a nuclear bomb in Russia, and 2) act almost interested in doing it. At least one of those two things is accomplished. (Summit)

More New DVD Releases (Nov. 26)

Animals, Applause, Battle Ground, Bill Cosby: Far From Finished, Black Sabbath Live: Gathered In Their Masses, Getaway, Jim Breuer: And Laughter For All, Jobs, Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition, Pete’s Christmas.

Published in TV

Wreck-It Ralph left me a little cold. A lot of folks predicted it would win the big Oscar prize for animation, but I correctly predicted that Brave (a better movie) would be the victor.

There’s a lot of potential in this arcade throwback about a giant video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who yearns for a better life as a “good guy,” and abandons his “bad guy” game post. There are some cool retro-game sight gags (but not nearly enough!) and some clever twists, but this one falls substantially short of greatness.

I did enjoy Sarah Silverman giving voice to a little-girl character who wants to be a racecar driver, and Reilly voices his character with charm. I just the film a little tiresome as it wore on, and I grew tired of it in the repetitive second half.

There were some major laughs in the group-therapy sessions (I love the zombie!) and some cute stuff between Reilly and Silverman, but overall, the film is surprisingly tedious. Like too many animated films these days, it tries to get by on frantic action rather than story. It’s not a bad movie … it’s just a movie I didn’t like very much.

Special Features: The best special feature would be “Paperman,” the animated short that preceded the film and got its own Oscar nomination. You also get a short behind-the-scenes look, and some deleted scenes. This is a surprisingly lackluster disc effort from Disney. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing