Reel Shorts | The Great Buck Howard | Sunshine Cleaning

21 03 2009

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While the big-budget films get all of the attention, it is the smaller, little gems that are the most fulfilling stories. This week two of these small treasures open in area theaters and you can’t go wrong with either film.

Both films feature heavy emotional overtones, second chances for their characters and a singular actress, Emily Blunt, who gives two totally different but effective performances in each film.

The Great Buck Howard
A unsatisfied law student drops out and takes a job working for a cornball, veteran mentalist, Buck Howard (the incredible John Malkovich) in this delightful little film about redemption. In this “Swimming with Sharks” type story, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) drops out of law school against the wish of his father (Tom Hanks) to take work for the demanding over-the-hill mentalist. Cheesy with timeless charm, Howard is best known as the man who appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson an astounding 61 times!

Possessing a hand shake that can shake your arm out of socket and preferring to work smaller fringe towns with his act, Howard is clearly a man who best days are behind him. But while Gable is trying to satisfy his tempestuous star, he meets temporary publicist, Valerie Brennan (Blunt) who he not only is his lover but confidant as well. Warning him that he has to get away from the fading star is easier said then done because deep down, Troy really believes that what Howard embodies is a dying art.

With questions about the legitimacy of Howard’s act, Troy realizes that there’s more to the entertainer than the naked eye can see. Directed by Sean McGinley, “Buck Howard” largely succeeds on the strength of the steady work of Malkovich. Whether screaming, “I love this town” or driving those around him crazy with his peculiar demands, Malkovich dominates the screen and gives this cute little fable it’s soul.

Grade: B

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Sunshine Cleaning
From the team that brought you the little indie darling, “Little Miss Sunshine,” comes a rather dark tale about two sisters coping with loss who ironically find the answers working around daily death in the winning dramedy, “Sunshine Cleaning.”

Bubbly Amy Adams dials down her enthusiasm as former high school head cheerleader, Rose, who suffers from severe self-esteem and confidence issues. A single mother, Rose is having an affair with her high school sweetheart who is now married and seeing her on the side. Her imaginative son is kicked out of elementary school after licking everything and everyone in sight.

Working as a maid for a cleaning service, things aren’t much better for her quirky, free-spirited sister, Norah (Blunt) who works in a dead-end job she hates and takes pleasure out of scaring the beejeezus out of her equally strange nephew.

With both sisters in a money crunch, Rose gets a tip from cop lover that she can make big money cleaning up crime scenes. With limited options and cojones of steel, the two get to work wiping away the scent of death an loss in greater Albuquerque.   With no background in this specialized field, Rose stumbles upon a kind one-armed helper, Winston, who sees right through the fragile, broken woman.

With the specter of death constantly in the air, the entire family discovers different ways to cope with loss and the film features several devices that are heart-breaking and genuinely touching. Whether talking to their late love ones on an old CB radio, connecting with other who’ve suffered loss or just spending time with items of a love ones, the genius of this film is that the story has so much life amid all of the emotional chaos.

Oscar-winner Alan Arkin is once again solid goal as the girl’s business-oriented flaky father, Joe, who is always getting his hustle on. With a similar performance from “Little Miss Sunshine,” Arkin once again hits all the right notes balancing the story nicely. The film benefits from the usual sparkling work from both Adams and Blunt, who is quietly becoming one of my favorite performers since her sterling work in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

With it’s ability to shine rays of sunlight on such dire circumstances, “Sunshine Cleaning” demonstrates that  hope conquerors all.

Grade: B

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2 responses

24 03 2009
little miss sunshine | 4BLOGGER

[…] Reel Reviews The Great Buck Howard Sunshine Cleaning FilmGordon […]

27 03 2009
Hot News » Little Miss Sunshine

[…] […]

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