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EW review: 'Steins' chopped liver

Also: Unbelievable 'Valley,' cliched 'Goal'

By Owen Gleiberman
Entertainment Weekly

Steins
Jami Gertz and Jeremy Piven watch Daryl Sabara carry the Torah in "Keeping Up with the Steins."

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(Entertainment Weekly) -- In "Keeping Up With the Steins," Jeremy Piven, so scaldingly funny as a cutthroat Los Angeles talent agent on "Entourage," stretches himself to play ... a cutthroat Los Angeles talent agent.

The difference is that here he isn't witty or authentic or much of anything else. The script doesn't give him one good line; he's just a beleaguered sitcom wuss trying to plan a bar mitzvah for his son that will outdo the one thrown by his neighbors.

When people put forth the theory that movies now suck and television rules, they might be talking about movies like "Keeping Up With the Steins," a comedy that makes you long for the high-voltage freedom of HBO. The film takes all the flavor out of a yummy satirical idea: status envy among assimilated Jews.

With ethnic gags that are about as fresh as three-day-old bagels, "Keeping Up With the Steins" may revel in some sagging stereotypes, but make no mistake: It's very much a product of the era of Sarah Silverman, Heeb magazine, and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- comedy with a self-abasing Jewish tilt that, in its ''insider'' outsiderness, offers itself as the new mainstream.

The movie opens with a bar mitzvah that's spectacular in its posh vulgarity. On a cruise ship, a boy stands on a mock-up of the Titanic and shouts ''I am the king of the Torah!'' as a hip-hop entertainer raps, ''Hava nagila beer, wine, tequila!'' (Yes, you read that right.) At this point, the movie is at least attempting to be funny, but then Garry Marshall, in a scraggly ponytail and a hippie version of a prayer shawl, shows up as Piven's estranged father.

Marshall takes over the movie (no mystery: his son, Scott, directed it), and "Keeping Up With the Steins" turns into a recipe to forget: chopped liver with ''heart.''

EW Grade: C-

'Down in the Valley'

Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman

Edward Norton made his movie debut almost exactly 10 years ago, as an altar boy accused of murder in "Primal Fear," and I still remember how jarring it was when, later on that same year, he played the well-tailored preppy attorney crusading against obscenity law in "The People vs. Larry Flynt." It was as if he'd grown up from shrinking, awkward child to clean-cut adult overnight.

Then again, the boy never quite disappeared. At 36, Norton still has that geeked-out eagerness, those innocent tilted-up eyes, that halting way of speaking that makes him sound like a kid trying to get over his shyness as he asks the teacher a question.

In "Down in the Valley," which Norton produced himself, he draws on that slightly arrested quality to play a character who may be a simpleton or may be not-so-simply nuts. As Harlan, a drifter whom we first meet when he's pumping gas on a San Fernando Valley strip, Norton wears a cowboy hat and speaks in one of those howdy-ma'am drawls, like a guy who just drifted in from the Ponderosa. Could this rube be for real?

Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), a budding beauty who looks to be about 16, certainly thinks so. When she pulls up at the filling station along with her friends, she's drawn to him, and you can see why. He may be a bit doofy, but he's also sexy in an easy, harmless way, like a temporary tattoo. She's the one who comes on like a predator, which is one reason their affair is doomed to fall off a cliff.

So is the movie, I'm afraid.

Written and directed by David Jacobson, who made the little-seen but accomplished "Dahmer" (2002), "Down in the Valley" exudes a luscious sense of place -- the hazy L.A. boulevards, the landscape of urban tropicana invaded by too many industrial wires. As long as Norton plays Harlan as a modern-day Joe Buck, a kind of four-in-the-afternoon cowboy, we're drawn by his waltz of innocence and vagueness.

But "Down in the Valley" turns out to be one of those films with a thick, gummy overlay of Western ''mythology.'' Harlan, who acts out old cowboy flicks in his motel room, can't separate reality from image, and the movie has the same problem. It's like "Taxi Driver" directed by Wim Wenders.

Which is to say, I didn't buy half of what I was seeing. Isn't it likely that Tobe's father, a sheriff (David Morse), would object to her going out with Harlan more forcefully than he does? Poor David Morse! He's such a fine actor, with reserves of perception and warmth (there are times he looks ready to star in "The Bill Clinton Story"), but here, as in too many previous films ("Dancer in the Dark," "The Crossing Guard"), he's stuck playing the angry, impacted jerk.

And what, exactly, do these mismatched lovers share? Evan Rachel Wood has a supernal sexiness, with skin like white marble and the twinkle of a junior '50s siren, but the script strands her with a character conceived almost entirely from the outside. She's jailbait without a cause, latching onto a troubled boy-man who, for all of Norton's neo-Method noodlings, is never quite there.

EW Grade: C

'Goal! The Dream Begins'

Reviewed by Gregory Kirschling

Sometimes the first movie in a trilogy isn't that good, but it fails just nobly enough to still make you curious enough to maybe see the sequels. "Goal! The Dream Begins" -- yet another Disney sports flick, this time involving an L.A. Mexican illegal named Santiago (Kuno Becker) who gets a shot across the pond kicking balls for Newcastle United -- has two more installments featuring the very likable Becker on tap, and I'd like to see Santiago go on to win the World Cup or something, joined by Alessandro Nivola as Newcastle's party-boy star. (The cast, all around, is sterling.)

There's only one thing they don't need to bring back for the sequels, and that's the movie's appetite for every sports cliche there ever was.

EW Grade: C+

'Sketches of Frank Gehry'

Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum

A mutual admiration society comes to order in "Sketches of Frank Gehry" when, mini-DV camera in hand, famous filmmaker Sydney Pollack circles around his friend, the equally famous architect of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and favorite of entertainment celebrities who want him to design their houses; Gehry sketches and free-associates about how he's not nearly the menschy aw-shucks pussycat from Canada he appears to be but rather a wily, complicated L.A. lion.

Meanwhile, another camera circles around the famous filmmaker. And danged if the seductive documentary -- Pollack's first -- doesn't come to resemble a Gehry building itself, all brash, eye-catching, a tad vain, and attractively neurotic.

EW Grade: B+


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