Guys and Balls might not win any awards for groundbreaking comedy, but the affable attitude and feel good atmosphere makes it one of the better exports of late. Maximilian Bruckner is Ecki, an awesome soccer player in a small German town hiding the deep dark secret that he’s gay. After he is accidentally outed in front of the whole town, and kicked off the squad by his angry arch nemesis and fellow teammate Udo (Carlo Ljubek), Ecki calls his ex-team to a game of homos against heteros. He’s got four weeks to pull together a motley group of misfits and turn them into a team to be reckoned with. One guess as to who wins, but that’s beside the point, because along the way, Ecki and his teammates learn a little about being a band of brothers and, for some, becoming comfortable and proud of who they are.
A simplistic story that relies more on entertainment than teaching any profound lessons, Guys and Balls never comes close to the camp of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but instead it falls somewhere between that and the other feel good soccer flick Bend it Like Beckham.
here! Films seem to have found a nitch for themselves with otherwise formulaic storytelling broadened by a gay slant. It sure worked for HellBent, the fantastic homage to slasher flicks, only in drag, and it’s well suited here too. Guys and Balls feels familiar but never fails to please with its engaging story and fine acting, especially from Christian Berkel as Rudolf, the previously-married-leather-fetishist who just wants his son to know who he is. It’s a touching moment when he first meets up with Jan (Marcel Nievelstein) after a few years of separation. Guys and Balls is full of these quiet moments, giving it an extra oomph that pushes it ahead of the current assembly line of gay themed films.
She’s the Man showcases a silly but intriguing premise that needs to rely heavily on the strength of the actors to displace some of the disbelief of Amanda Bynes clumsily going incognito in the newest Teen-Movie-Does-Shakespeare.
Bynes plays Viola, a soccer-loving teenager whose team is disbanded due to lack of numbers. Viola thinks it only natural to join the male soccer team but after her boyfriend (soon to be ex) pulls out some ham-fisted chauvinism, and after her twin brother, Sebastian (James Kirk) asks her to cover for him at the rival school (and his new school) while he heads to London with his band for two weeks, Viola decides to take Sebastian’s place at school, wow the soccer team, go toe-to-toe with her sexist ex in the big game and prove that girls are just are good as guys. Of course, she manages to fall in love with her new roommate, the hunky Duke (Channing Tatum) who is also on the team.
For those of us who were of any age in the late 80s or even the early 90s when Just One of the Guys ran endlessly on Comedy Central, it’s almost impossible not to compare the two films. However, Dreamworks isn’t marketing this film to a generation now in their mid-30s. It’s just as well, since although there are some scenes in She’s the Man that practically duplicate its predecessor, this is an entertaining, if hollow, comedy. It doesn’t capture any of the teenage nuances that Amy Heckerling’s Clueless did, but She’s the Man seems happiest when it’s at its silliest. Granted, Bynes mugs it a bit too much when she first makes the gender bending transition but she grows more comfortable as Viola’s life grows more chaotic.
There are several laugh-out-loud moments courtesy of some purely over the top humor lacking any subtlety, yet She’s the Man is a pleasant surprise. Glossy Hollywood films looking for an older audience could do worse than to follow in She’s the Man steps. Keep it simple-stupid; make us laugh and the audience will come.
This review originally appeared in Entertainment Today.
In an ambitious move on the distributor’s part, the theatrical release of Wolf Creek fell on Christmas Day. In its limited play areas the movie did well and fans seemed generally satisfied with this ultra-realistic tale loosely based on the notorious Australian serial killer Ivan Milat. Torture is of the first degree here, but unfortunately, it’s too little too late and the uneasy mix of mysticism and gore falls short.
Wolf Creek tells the story of three backpackers who run afoul of a backwoods/outback type madman when their car breaks down at Wolf Creek (the Creek is actually a landmark of a giant crater). Before they meet up with Mick Taylor (John Jarrett), strange things happen to them at the foot of the Creek. First their watches stop, then the car engine won’t turn, leaving them stranded in the barren Australian wasteland. There’s lots of foreshadowing but none of it leads the viewer to what it will ultimately experience, the last third is a long and gruesome torture sequence featuring the three hiker’s attempts to survive.
Where writer/director Greg McLean goes wrong is trying to combine too much of another Australian thriller, the supernatural (and superb) Picnic at Hanging Rock with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a marriage that doesn’t mix well, making the first half of the movie feel like a rotten red herring. Wolf Creek does have its strong points, the build up is great, thanks to the three lead actors who are simply the most realistic young adults I’ve seen in the spate of recent disappointing horror releases. There is lots of subtly creepy dialog that foretells their fate as well as some great off-the-cuff remarks about the Creek itself and why the comet was drawn to this particular part of the earth, much like Mick who uses the Creek as his playground for murder. However, all of this loses steam once the killer shows up. He’s silly and comically over the top. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem that odd that he’d be this way, as most serial killers seem to lack any kind of real human core, but his portrayal is more the stuff of Scary Movie than Maniac. By the time we get to the brutality, it’s a cold viewing as the likeable characters start doing stupid things. That might work in the old 80s slashers and it certainly added to their charm, but now it’s just frustrating. It would seem that McLean does have an eye for the wicked but he needs to decide exactly what genre he’s speaking to, and then he must speak clearly.
This review originally appeared in Entertainment Today