The Films of Michael Polish
Twin Falls Idaho
Jackpot (July 29/02)
Jackpot follows a singer and his manager as they head for Jackpot, Nevada - the site of a big karaoke contest. Not a whole lot happens on the way; the two talk a lot about various things, and every now and then, they'll hit a local karaoke bar. The singer, named Sunny Holiday and played by Jon Gries, has left his dead-end job and hit the road in the hopes of making it big as a performer. How he hooked up with a manager (Garrett Morris' Lester) is never quite explained.
While there's certainly no denying that director Michael Polish has a flair for style, the movie's plotless screenplay (written by Polish and his brother, Mark) generally makes it awfully difficult to connect to any of the central characters. What the film does have going for it, then, are the fantastic performances, with Gries delivering a performance that would be considered a breakthrough were this a more high-profile piece of work (ie it's unfortunately quite doubtful that his subtle and quiet portrayal will be recognized by anyone other than critics). SNL alum Morris is also surprisingly good, playing Sunny's no-nonsense manager. There are a few cameos, including a particularly pointless appearance by ER's Anthony Edwards, but this movie belongs to Gries and Morris. Jackpot's leaden pace ultimately guarantees it'll never be accepted en masse, although the film does seem like the sort that'll eventually garner a cult audience of some kind (particularly among viewers who can relate to Sunny's plight). The Polish brothers are clearly talented; all they need now is a story that's more interesting than this one.
The Astronaut Farmer (February 22/07)
The Astronaut Farmer is a charming, Capraesque fantasy that casts Billy Bob Thornton as Charles Farmer, a small-town rancher who becomes the focus of a worldwide media circus after word gets out on the working rocket ship in his barn. While there's little doubt that screenwriters Mark and Michael Polish (the latter of whom also directs) are going for a sentimental, old-fashioned sort of vibe, the filmmakers effectively subvert the viewer's expectations by throwing in a variety of genuinely unexpected twists and turns - with the end result a flick that's never quite as predictable as its premise might have indicated. The deliberate pace with which the brothers have imbued the film generally serves the material quite well, though there's no denying that the somber midsection could've used a little tightening (things do pick up just in time for a thoroughly rousing finale, however). Thornton's expectedly superb performance certainly goes a long way towards keeping things interesting, something that's equally true of the quirky supporting cast (which includes, among others, Tim Blake Nelson, Jon Gries, and J.K. Simmons). As an inspiring and uplifting piece of work, The Astronaut Farmer undoubtedly succeeds - with the various little touches (ie a surprisingly effective cameo by an A-list star) ensuring that the film remains a cut above thematically-similar fare.
For Lovers Only
90 Minutes in Heaven
Hot Bot (March 4/16)
An astonishingly inept comedy, Hot Bot follows two horny teenagers (Doug Haley's Limus and Zack Pearlman's Leonard) as they stumble upon a high-tech sex robot (Cynthia Kirchner's Bardot) intended for a U.S. Senator (Larry Miller) - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing the pair's efforts at keeping Bardot a secret and, eventually, away from the aforementioned Senator's secret service detail (Anthony Anderson's Agent Frazier and Danny Masterson's Agent Koontz). It's a workable premise that's employed to consistently (and aggressively) incompetent effect by filmmaker Michael Polish, as the director, working from a screenplay cowritten with Mark Polish, has infused Hot Bot with a low-rent and hopelessly broad sensibility that grates ritually from the word go - with the movie's often unwatchable atmosphere perpetuated by an ongoing emphasis on larger-than-life, over-the-top performances. This is especially true of Haley and Pearlman's nails-on-a-chalkboard work as the film's impossibly unsympathetic heroes, while a surprisingly talented supporting cast, which includes Donald Faison, Kirby Bliss Blanton, and Angela Kinsey, is left floundering and forced to play to the rafters by the Polish siblings' pervasively misguided screenplay. By the time the wholly unjustified sentimental final act rolls around, Hot Bot has confirmed its place as an effort so bad, so amateurish that it's impossible not to wonder what the talented Polish brothers were thinking (or smoking).