David Krumholtz

Liberty Heights (1999, Barry Levinson)

Liberty Heights is about protagonist Ben Foster's last year in high school. Levinson never puts it in such simple terms because the film is about quiet, deliberate, but perceivable life events. Every moment in the film's memorable because Levinson is going through these people's memorable moments of the year. Of course, he never forecasts the film will take place over a year. Heights is an epical story, lyrically told.

Levinson splits the film primarily between Foster and Adrien Brody, as his older brother. But Joe Mantegna, as their father, and Orlando Jones, as Mantenga's business antagonist, also get some of the individual focus. So Levinson, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, editor Stu Linder and composer Andrea Morricone have to figure out how to identify these moments for the characters. Through the sound, the light, everything has to be perfect because of Levinson's approach.

It seems like a precarious approach–to set up a film to only have intense scenes; even scenes with Foster watching television or Brody talking to a friend, they all have to be intense in some way or another. Morricone's score is gorgeous and exuberant, but Levinson also uses contemporary popular music to get the scenes done too.

The performances are essential. Foster, Brody, Jones. All three are phenomenal. Bebe Neuwirth's great as Foster and Brody's mother, Rebekah Johnson is excellent as Foster's friend. The entire supporting cast is perfect.

Heights is simultaneously ambitious in its filmmaking, but also in its sincerity. It never hits a false note.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Stu Linder; music by Andrea Morricone; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by Levinson and Paula Weinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Adrien Brody (Van Kurtzman), Ben Foster (Ben Kurtzman), Rebekah Johnson (Sylvia), David Krumholtz (Yussel), Bebe Neuwirth (Ada Kurtzman), Orlando Jones (Little Melvin), Richard Kline (Charlie), Vincent Guastaferro (Pete), Justin Chambers (Trey Tobelseted), Carolyn Murphy (Dubbie), James Pickens Jr. (Sylvia’s Father), Frania Rubinek (Grandma Rose), Anthony Anderson (Scribbles), Kiersten Warren (Annie the Stripper), Evan Neumann (Sheldon), Kevin Sussman (Alan Joseph Zuckerman), Gerry Rosenthal (Murray), Shane West (Ted) and Joe Mantegna (Nate Kurtzman).


Justice League of America (1997, Félix Enríquez Alcalá)

Justice League of America is a strange mix of okay and terrible. What it does have going for it is sincerity. Sure, there’s a fair amount of incompetence thrown in and director Alcalá is awful and the script from Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton is bad… but there are actually some good things about it.

The problem is Alcalà and the writers don’t seem to get what works. It’s funny to have superheroes running around suburban Vancouver. Alcalà just doesn’t know how to shoot establishing shots. It makes League–a mercifully failed television pilot–look cheap when they could have just as easily made it look thrifty.

The concept–think “Real World,” but a very nice one, mixed with superheroes–is fine. The cast is mostly appealing. Kimberly Oja’s good as the newbie superhero. Matthew Settle’s good, Michelle Hurd’s really good, Kenny Johnston manages to be okay even though he’s got the worst dialogue. Of the principals, only John Kassir is bad. And he’s even inoffensive in the “Real World” interviews….

Miguel Ferrer’s downright great as Oja’s boss and David Krumholtz is hilarious as a teenager courting Hurd. How Alcalà got such sincere performances out of the cast–especially when the costumes are so ludicrous (which no one seems to acknowledge, another shortcoming)–is beyond me. He doesn’t do anything else right.

Oh. David Ogden Stiers. I think he was happiest of all League didn’t get a series order.

There’s no reason to watch Justice League… but it’s got moments.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá; written by Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton; director of photography, Barry M. Wilson; edited by Ed Rothkowitz; music by John Debney; production designer, James Lima; produced by Larry Rapaport.

Starring Matthew Settle (Guy Gardner), Kimberly Oja (Tori Olafsdotter), John Kassir (Ray Palmer), Michelle Hurd (B.B. DaCosta), Kenny Johnston (Barry Allen), David Krumholtz (Martin), Elisa Donovan (Cheryl), Ron Pearson (Dr. Arliss Hopke), David Ogden Stiers (J’onn J’onzz) and Miguel Ferrer (Dr. Eno).


A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

From the title A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas sounds like a TV special, not a 3D movie extravaganza and director Strauss-Schulson feels the need to prove it every four minutes or so. Harold & Kumar often has pointless (if occasionally amazing) 3D set-pieces but they eventually stop.

They stop after writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg find their footing. There’s a big concept to Harold & Kumar this time and it shows why one of these movies should never, ever have a big concept.

But Hurwitz and Schlossberg, during all that problematic plotting, still come up with some hilarious jokes. For the first fifteen minutes, though, many of those jokes fall flat.

The returning love interests make the movie drag. Danneel Harris is incompetent (because she has nothing to do) but Paula Garcés just isn’t funny. She’s got Danny Trejo as her dad, which is hilarious, and she brings nothing to it.

Staying with the acting, Amir Blumenfeld and Tom Lennon are lacking as the new sidekicks. Blumenfeld’s just flat but Lennon misses a bunch of jokes. He brings no edge to it.

Elsewhere in the supporting cast, Elias Koteas is great (but he’s in the wrong movie) and Neil Patrick Harris is, unfortunately, showing his exhaustion.

John Cho and Kal Penn are still both great and they sell the movie’s buddy franchise comedy message.

Oddly, Harold & Kumar not really a Christmas movie, even though it advertises itself as such.

But who cares? It’s hilarious enough of the time.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson; written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Eric Kissack; music by William Ross; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Greg Shapiro; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Cho (Harold), Kal Penn (Kumar), Tom Lennon (Todd), Danny Trejo (Mr. Perez), Amir Blumenfeld (Adrian), Paula Garcés (Maria), Elias Koteas (Mary’s dad), Danneel Harris (Vanessa), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), David Krumholtz (Goldstein) and Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris.


Sidewalks of New York (2001, Edward Burns)

Sidewalks of New York is Edward Burns embracing the idea of becoming the WASP Woody Allen. Well, Burns is Irish Catholic, so not exactly the WASP Woody Allen… but something nearer to it than not. It’s his attempt at making a quintessential New York movie while being aware he’s making a quintessential New York movie.

And he partially succeeds. Even with one enormous—so enormous I’m tempted to call it ginormous (even if Oxford thinks it’s a word, I don’t)—problem, Sidewalks is a good film. It’s an extremely finished, safe film, but it’s a good one.

What’s so striking about the film is how comfortable Burns gets with his cast. It isn’t the traditional Burns cast—these aren’t Irish guys on Long Island, it’s a bunch of New Yorkers from the boroughs transplanted to Manhattan.

It’s somewhat anti-Manhattan, actually, even though every scene except one is set there.

The acting is all wonderful, particularly from Rosario Dawson (who, unfortunately, is victim of the ginormous problem), Brittany Murphy and David Krumholtz. Burns is good, but he really doesn’t give himself a big role. He usually lets Dennis Farina (who’s hilarious) overpower their scenes. Stanley Tucci is good, just giving an excellent Tucci performance. Heather Graham is sort of out of her league, sort of not. My favorite is when she can’t help laughing at Tucci.

In smaller roles, Michael Leydon Campbell, Nadja Dajani and Libby Langdon are excellent.

It’s Burns being unambitious and gloriously so—that statement’s a compliment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi ; edited by David Greenwald; produced by Margot Bridger, Burns, Cathy Schulman and Rick Yorn; released by Paramount Classics.

Starring Edward Burns (Tommy), Rosario Dawson (Maria), Dennis Farina (Carpo), Heather Graham (Annie), David Krumholtz (Ben), Brittany Murphy (Ashley), Stanley Tucci (Griffin), Michael Leydon Campbell (Gio / Harry), Nadia Dajani (Hilary), Callie Thorne (Sue) and Libby Langdon (Make-up Girl).


Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg)

As far as sequels go, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (huh, Guantanamo isn’t in Apple’s dictionary) is superior to the first. It’s far more absurd and the characters have comfortably become a modern comedy duo. Their adventures are modernized comedy bits, which work due to the movie’s absence of realistic pretense, but where Harold & Kumar is different is in its willingness to discuss race in America.

The humor generally falls into four categories. Kal Penn as a brainless male, getting high, race and the American identity. Even though Harold & Kumar cops out a little when it comes to Bush and his responsibility for American xenophobia, maybe portraying him as a drunk stoner with father issues is more effective (it certainly is in the comedic sense). The script nicely works the comedy into convenient vignettes, a grandiose road movie on a limited budget.

As writers, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg run their characters through a bunch of funny situations, work in flashbacks and dream sequences to great effect (Harold & Kumar is, in the best possible way, something of a live action “Family Guy”), but their directing skills are nil. There’s almost no visual tone to the movie and the effects sequences are atrocious. I suppose they can sit the camera down and let action play in front of it well enough, but their composition makes the movie feel like a direct-to-video teen comedy.

What elevates the movie from that confusion are Penn and John Cho. This time, Penn’s got a love interest, Danneel Harris (big shock, that one’s not in Apple’s dictionary either) and it really helps the movie. Harris is likable, if bereft of dramatic ability, and Penn makes up for anything she’s not bringing to her scenes. Cho’s good as the straight man, but thinking about it after seeing it, it’s sort of surprising just how little he’s got to do in the story. Sight gags mostly.

The rest of the supporting cast varies. Rob Corddry’s funny because of his dialogue, but he can’t actually act. The whole time, I wondered what it’d be like if they’d gotten Domenick Lombardozzi from “The Wire” for the role. It would have worked a lot better. Roger Bart’s weak. Neil Patrick Harris is, no shock, real funny. Hurwitz and Schlossberg write some of the movie’s better material for Harris scenes.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is something more than a cheap diversion, due to that racial humor; it’s a good ice cream. And Hurwitz and Schlossberg are much better at the best pop culture references than anyone else. They really get them into the script naturally.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Jeff Freeman; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Tony Fanning; produced by Greg Shapiro and Nathan Kahane; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Kal Penn (Kumar), John Cho (Harold), Rob Corddry (Ron Fox), Roger Bart (Dr. Beecher), David Krumholtz (Goldstein), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), Jack Conley (Deputy Frye), Paula Garcés (Maria), Danneel Harris (Vanessa), Eric Winter (Colton) and Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris).


The Mexican (2001, Gore Verbinski)

No kidding The Mexican has a lot of the same score as The Abyss, Alan Silvestri composed both… oddly, I didn’t even think he was working anymore (or even back when The Mexican came out). Besides the Abyss rips, he turns in a good, funny score. But anyway….

The Mexican is kind of strange and kind of not. The Brad Pitt without Julia Roberts half, the doofus’s adventures in Mexico, plays a lot like a Paul Newman movie from the 1970s, only not as good. Pitt, unlike Newman, can play a doofus though and he does a great job here. The Julia Roberts on the road with gay hit man James Gandolfini is actually the stranger part of the film, because it’s Julia Roberts in a role beneath her movie star stature. Her role’s the girlfriend and while she and Pitt are good together, it’s really not a big enough part for her.

The film’s quirky in its handling of its mega-stars (though Pitt is a lot more comfortable) and it almost seems like a smaller movie, until the last act when the surprise guest star pops in and The Mexican becomes the standard Hollywood movie Dreamworks had so much trouble making. It’s an excellent standard Hollywood movie too.

Gore Verbinski’s direction, much like the big movie stars, seems almost more than the script deserves. The Mexican‘s script is frequently way too cute for itself and way too contrived and it’s a shock no one thought to get a quick rewrite. John Sayles probably would have done wonders in a few weeks. But Verbinski really knows how to shoot Panavision, whether it’s conversation or action….

The other reason the film works is the casting. Pitt, Roberts and Gandolfini (Pitt does the most work in terms of range, though the performance is kind of like Twelve Monkeys, down to the mannerisms) are all good in the three biggest roles, but J.K. Simmons, Bob Balaban, Richard Coca and David Krumholtz are essential in the primary supporting roles. It’s very well-cast.

The Mexican is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make any more and needs to… it’s unspectacularly okay.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gore Verbinski; written by J.H. Wyman; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Craig Wood; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Lawrence Bender and John Baldecchi; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Brad Pitt (Jerry), Julia Roberts (Samantha), James Gandolfini (Leroy), J.K. Simmons (Ted), Bob Balaban (Nayman), Sherman Augustus (Well Dressed Black Man), Michael Cerveris (Frank), Richard Coca (Car Thief #1) and David Krumholtz (Beck).


Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004, Danny Leiner), the uncut version

I’m trying to imagine Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle with different leads and I’m coming up empty. The movie works because of John Cho and Kal Penn. With the exception of the absolutely horrible direction by Danny Leiner and the terrible editing–so incompetent I actually need to mention the guy’s name, Jeff Betancourt, because the terrible rhythm of his cuts wounded my retina, Harold & Kumar is a fine way to spend eighty odd minutes. It’s funny and the performances are good and the story never gets stupid–except maybe Ryan Reynolds’s cameo and just his part; it’s kind of like American Pie in its geniality.

Kal Penn gets to do the wacky thing for most of the movie and even though he’s visibly an extremely capable actor, it’s a good choice. John Cho is easier to identify with, positioned as the traditional underdog from the start. It’s actually when the two of them are together in quiet moments, Harold & Kumar starts to lose steam, because their friendship’s unbelievable.

As far as the comedic writing goes–it’s wildly uneven in parts. A long section with a puss-encrusted mechanic serves no purpose, neither does Cho’s CG dream–though the punchline is funny. Cho doesn’t get to be funny–it’s not his role in the movies, doesn’t follow the rules the movie’s established for itself, so when they try, it fails and is boring. Penn’s so much better at it (and his daydream sequence is hilarious).

The supporting cast is all good. David Krumholtz plays a stoned wastoid, which might have been fun but he’s certainly not taxing himself. Neil Patrick Harris plays Neil Patrick Harris and he’s funny. New comedy standard Fred Willard shows up for a bit and he’s funny. It’s all very well-cast (with the exception of Reynolds obviously).

Though the opening’s direction is an abomination (Leiner gets better after forty minutes, stopping with his idiotic fast forwarding, undoubtedly an appalling side effect of digital editing), Harold & Kumar was, from the start, not what I was expecting. Maybe I was expecting that terrible style or whatever, but once it established itself as a comedy about a guy wanting to meet a girl, it was fine. Like American Pie or whatever.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Leiner; written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; director of photography, Bruce Douglas Johnson; edited by Jeff Betancourt; music by David Kitay; production designer, Steve Rosenzweig; produced by Greg Shapiro and Nathan Kahane; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring John Cho (Harold Lee), Kal Penn (Kumar Patel), Paula Garcès (Maria), Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris), David Krumholtz (Goldstein), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Rosenberg), Christopher Meloni (Freakshow) and Fred Willard (Dr. Willoughby).


Looking for Kitty (2004, Edward Burns)

After Ed Burns’s last couple films, I’d forgotten to expect something great from him. Looking for Kitty opens with a shot straight out of The Brothers McMullen, or at least a camera move straight out of it. Kitty also borrows a lot of the same music style and, watching the film, I kept remembering Burns’s low budget filmmaking tricks from McMullen and noticed them again in Kitty. Except Burns is a different filmmaker now and Kitty, which runs all of seventy-five minutes, doesn’t make a single mistake. A friend of mine used to say he wished there were short (he meant hour-long) features one could go see while waiting for a bus or a class or dinner. Kitty certainly shows off the possibilities for such a genre. Around the seventy minute mark, I got worried Burns was going to pad it out. Then he didn’t. Instead, he left it alone, let the story run its course. Structurally, it’s a lot like a short story. I’m not particularly sure I’d want to read the short story, but as a film, it works beautifully….

Kitty‘s strength, oddly, comes from Burns’s performance and his character. Back in his first three films, he let himself be the least dynamic (but showiest) actor, which changed with the next two; here in Kitty, he slowly lets the film be about himself, starting with it centering around David Krumholtz’s goofy high school baseball coach who looks like something out of a 1970s Folgers commercial. Once it becomes clear–probably in the first twenty-five minutes, but those twenty-five are amazingly well paced–Burns is actually the protagonist, the film shifts a little. It ceases to be a “mystery” and starts being a rumination on sadness. There’s one sequence in the film–the DV hurts it, but still–it’s wonderful and perfect and it’s when I realized I hadn’t even considered the possibility of Burns turning out another good film, much less a great seventy-five minute one.

The film’s visual tone, how Burns showcases New York City, is interesting, because–while his character continuously espouses its virtues–Burns the director frames his shots tight outside and big inside. The only time it ever feels like he’s doing a detective movie homage is when the characters are in the car, but even then, Looking for Kitty seems like another film, one where the grownups get to do what they wanted to do as kids (play baseball every day and be a detective) and have to deal with it. The friendship between Krumholtz and Burns is particularly nice, because Burns layers it right, paces it right.

If it weren’t for a few really great things–editing-wise, Looking for Kitty is absolutely beautiful. Some of the cuts in this film are breathtaking. Problematically, Burns doesn’t always have the right coverage (he’d probably do well to shoot American Graffiti-style, multiple cameras at once) so sometimes the compositions don’t match, but the editing itself is unbelievable. Anyway, if it weren’t for a few really great things, content-wise, I’d say Looking for Kitty‘s greatness came from its running time and Burns’s sense of how to pace a small story. But it does have a bunch–like six–really great moments and they don’t have anything to do with the running time… (one has to do with the story’s time, I’m not sure about the others).

But it’s a wonderful surprise (though it shouldn’t be, Burns’s really good early films tended to have significant dings holding them back–Kitty has none… and maybe not the time for them). I’m ashamed I didn’t see it until now.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Sarah Flack; music by Robert Gary and PT Walkley; produced by Burns, Aaron Lubin and Margot Bridger; released by ThinkFilm.

Starring Edward Burns (Jack), David Krumholtz (Abe Fiannico), Max Baker (Ron Stewart), Connie Britton (Ms. Petracelli), Kevin Kash (KK) and Chris Parnell (Guy Borne).


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