Kettle of Fish
Claudia Myers / NY, NY Narrative Feature
Full disclosure: I went to college with Kettle of Fish writer-director Claudia Myers. So I hope she’ll forgive me if I confess to being initially dispirited when her romantic comedy began with the kind of montage-of-bad-dates we’ve come to know from countless other films. Luckily, the film recovers quickly. The idea of that aforementioned montage, of course, is to illustrate the fact that our lead character, a jazz saxophonist named Mel (Matthew Modine), can’t quite bring himself to find the right girl and settle down. It’s a simple enough setup, and it gets even simpler when Mel lets his New York apartment to Ginger, an attractive English biologist (Gina Gershon, sporting an accent that will probably divide some audiences, but which I personally dug). We know where this one is headed, but Kettle of Fish is more about the how and not so much the where. And this is a genuinely sweet-natured film that provides unexpected moments of inspiration: Mel may not be the greatest sax player, but he sure can send his pet goldfish into a blissful state with his playing; likewise, Ginger’s mousy, love-struck co-worker Casey (Kevin J. O’Connor) changes before our very eyes from an awkward schlub to another ordinary guy looking for romance, suggesting a certain big-heartedness all too often lacking in this genre that’s supposedly all about heart. More significantly, when Mel falls unexpectedly head over heels for a well-heeled bride-to-be (Christy Cashman), Myers avoids going for the easy complications of a typical romantic triangle, instead opting for a more refined message about how amorous flights of fancy need to be grounded in the real world in order to mean anything significant. It all goes to show that even the most tried-and-true stories can be given new life with thoughtful writing, elegant filmmaking, and a game cast.—B.E.
Kiss Me Again
William Tyler Smith / NY, NY Narrative Feature
Hovering in that dangerous middle ground between wish-fulfillment fantasy and morality tale, William Tyler Smith’s Kiss Me Again might be an earnest attempt to lay bare the tragic pitfalls awaiting those who dabble in threesomes, or a shameless exploitation of an attractive, game cast. Or, more likely, some unholy combination of both. What it most surely isn’t, unfortunately, is the irreverent and steamy romantic comedy it could have been. A Brooklyn prof (Jeremy London) and his reserved wife (Katheryn Winnick) are inspired by their sexually liberated flatmate (Elisa Donovan) to invite a third to their bed. Hubby gets the bright idea to propose the arrangement to the hot Spanish student (Mirelly Taylor) he’s been flirting with. She accepts. Faster than you can say, “Too good to be true,” things start to go horribly awry. Trouble first arises when the wife falls in love with the student. This provokes the ire of the bisexual flatmate, who has apparently been carrying a secret torch for some time. Pedro Almodóvar could have had a field day with this thing. So, too, could Jenna Jameson. But Kiss Me Again wants to be a tragic melodrama—Douglas Sirk by way of Zalman King—and squanders a likable cast in the process.—B.E.
Michael Skolnik, Rebecca Chaiklin / NY, NY Documentary Feature
Documentary filmmaking is a risky business. Hitch your wagon to the wrong horse and you can go galloping off a cliff or never get anywhere at all. Rebecca Chaikin and Michael Skolnik decided to take a wild ride with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, as he pursued his on-again, off-again lobbying effort against the retrograde and too severe Rockefeller drug laws. You wonder if they regret the choice. Simmons is filmed interrupting a drug-policy meeting to try on new sunglasses, jabbering away on his cell phone, and being accused by several other activists of becoming Pataki’s patsy. Simmons’s Hip Hop Summit Action Network has generated great press but has never been terribly consistent. Simmons himself was censored for financial misdeeds related to his activism, and his own wife was arrested for marijuana possession in 2004—a fact not mentioned in the documentary which later damaged his credibility. Still, a Simmons rally turned out hip-hop stars and 60,000 people at City Hall, and his A-list exposure does seem to have helped raise awareness of the law’s unfairness and contribute, in part, to lessening some sentences. With such a mixed bag of accomplishments, it’s no surprise that this documentary leaves you feeling a bit uneasy, and more than a bit unconvinced of Russell Simmons’s political skill.—L.H.
Síofra Campbell / NY, NY Narrative Feature
There are those who can play big and those who can’t. Director Síofra Campbell deserves some credit for recognizing that perpetual oddball Ewen Bremner, the Scots actor still best known for playing “Spud” in Trainspotting, would be the right man to pull off this weird satire of celebrity culture. Unfortunately, Bremner’s performance is the only thing that works in Marvelous, primarily because while he can be big, everyone else just seems to be overacting. A shame, too, because the story is promising: Upon discovering that she can magically “heal” broken machines and sick people, divorceé Gwen (Martha Plimpton) finds her life changing—people turn to her for help in straightening out their lives, men want her, and her married sister (Amy Ryan) no longer looks down at her lovesick sibling. Meanwhile, her brother-in-law Lars (Bremner) is discovering new feelings for Gwen—and conjuring up a business plan. The elixir of fame, of course, will eventually prove quite toxic. Campbell works in broad strokes here: People become sensations virtually overnight, dreams are realized from one scene to the next, and the outside world remains somewhat unseen and aloof (in that sense, Marvelous feels more like a play than a movie). Bremner navigates his character well, giving this quick-tempered dimwit some genuine soul and charm. But the rest of the cast, struggling with an uneven script, isn’t always up to the challenge. We get understated naturalism one minute, zinging satire the next. Ultimately, Marvelous is a work that never really coheres.—B.E.