Tag Archives: Dark Comedy

BlacKkKlansman

[5 stars]

Undoubtedly, this is Spike Lee’s (Chi-Raq) best film since Do The Right Thing. Not because he is back on political ground, he never left it, but because it flows, it is human, and it is a masterful piece of storytelling that takes you from Point A to a Point B in unexpected ways. It is an hypnotic film that draws you in with its humor and, while never subtle, slowly turns the screws to leave you with that same self-reflective feeling Do The Right Thing managed way back when.

Certainly Lee’s trademark camera work and shots are present, but he holds them back for better impact than he has in the past. And his direction for the actors is subtle as he orchestrates the off-beat and nearly unbelievable tale.

In the lead, John David Washington (Ballers) floats perfectly through Stallworth’s story. Adam Driver (Logan Lucky) supports him well by his side and navigating his own complex history. As difficult as these roles were to play, Topher Grace (The Calling), Ryan Eggold (Lucky Them), Jasper Pääkkönen (Vikings), and Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya) deserve special notice. They had to navigate some very dark places with conviction and without allowing them to become caricatures; no easy task.

This film is rather female poor, which was a surprise. However, Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Ashlie Atkinson (One Dollar) each create fascinating, true-believers who are very much part of the story. As a surprise short bit, Alec Baldwin (Mission: Impossible: Fallout) sets the tone nicely if not entirely fits in the movie. There are many other performances to notice, but this would get too long to list them all. Suffice to say that it is a well heeled and directed cast.

But, unlike the also true Shock and Awe, Lee managed to find the personal stories in the tale and to talk to us openly and honestly, bringing home the point of his film. In fact, he baldly lectures and nods to our present day. Because he does, but within the strictures of the story he’s telling, it becomes wry, sarcastic humor rather than pure chest-beating exposition. I don’t know how he managed that, but it worked.

The movie has its flaws, but not many. Most of the concerns I had fled as the movie wrapped up and the reasons for many choices became clear. It is certainly an odd structure, but it is also a beautiful piece of architecture and a movie not to be missed. Make time for this film in the theater. It isn’t necessarily a big-screen flick, though Lee certainly knows how to frame things, but it does deserve your support and time. It isn’t a pleasant subject, but you get plenty of sugar with the medicine. That BlacKkKlansman is a true story only adds to the weird and scary wonderfulness of it all.

BlacKkKlansman

Ideal Home

[3 stars]

Yes, you’ve seen the base aspect of this story before: young child comes into the lives of adults without children who are already struggling with their own relationship. And, yes, this latest entry into this odd sub-genre is generally sweet and fluffy, but with a wonderful main difference and edge.

The unexpected parents are Steve Coogan (The Dinner) and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man and the Wasp) who play bickering lovers, a la Vicious. There is plenty expected, but one thing that isn’t… the story here is about family and how we love, not about the genitals of who loves whom. The relationship between Coogan and Rudd is utterly, wonderfully superfluous other than, at times, as a foil for some delightfully evil dialogue. At times, the choice borders on a cheap trick, but since the entire film dances on the surface of the subject, it is easy to roll with. At no time do Coogan or Rudd make fun of their characters or situation; they’re just a bit brash.

The final pieces of the puzzle are the errant parent, Jake McDorman (Limitless, Lady Bird) and his son, Jack Gore (Billions). McDorman has one of the hardest roles, having to play the stark realities against the brighter backdrop, but he does so well. Gore isn’t bad, but he isn’t brilliant. What is nice is that Gore isn’t playing for cute, he’s much more clearly a kid from a challenged home and life.

Writer/director Andrew Fleming (Hamlet 2, Younger) is unafraid of odd material and he knows how to control it well. He likes to challenge expectations and have fun with genres. Fleming is also somewhat obsessed with growing up…most typically about adults finally growing up when forced to by circumstance. While he tends to control the comedy of his work well, he also is often unwilling to dive too deep into the emotional truths, though he dips into it enough to make it work. Basically, he creates fun and unexpected entertainments that are a big edgy and a lot funny, and with just a touch of message. This movie is no exception and will leave you with a smile.

Ideal Home

Eighth Grade

[3.5 stars]

For his first film, writer/director Bo Burnham gives us a painful gem of what it is to be 13-ish. I can’t say I ever wanted to go back there in my mind but, despite the technology aspects, clearly little has changed. And that is part of the point.

What the technology brings to the story is a wonderful mirror for Elsie Fisher (Dirty Girl) to play with and against as we see her inner and outer voices. Her performance is wonderful and honest, with only a few forced hitches. Josh Hamilton (13 Reasons Why), as her father, also turns in a wonderfully subtle performance as a foil for Fisher. There are many other young actors who fill out Fisher’s school and world. Of them, Jake Ryan’s (Isle of Dogs) awkward tween Casanova is the most memorable.

Despite its particular and narrow focus, Eighth Grade is a reminder of just how alone and together we all are, regardless of age or family situation. It is honest to the point of making you cringe. The result is a great indicator of what Burnham and Fisher each may be capable of down the road. A24 continues to show off their ability to find unique and resonate films to distribute; see this at some point.

Eighth Grade

Everything is Illuminated

[3.5 stars]

This is a sneaky little film, and all to the good. Liev Schreiber (Pawn Sacrifice) pulls off a clever bit of structure that would often destroy a film in less sure hands. Here it works wonderfully. And given that this was his first attempt at both writing and directing, it is an even more impressive result.

Elija Wood (The Last Witch Hunter) is the only readily recognizable face in the film. He provides a great spine for the tale. An equally strong performance is from a face you may or may not recognize, Boris Leskin. The interplay of these two characters is part of the magic that Schreiber pulls off.

I don’t know how much of the story from the original book is true, but the impact forgives it any embellishments. If you missed this in the past, make time for this story at some point. Let its quiet pace and wry humor take you along to unexpected places and endings. It is powerful and, sadly, still very relevant in today’s world.

Everything Is Illuminated

The Endless

[3 stars]

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s follow-up to their surprising Spring is just as unique, if not quite as endearing. Where Spring was pretty much a horror/romance, Endless is more of a subtle science fiction piece with fewer direct answers, though with plenty of clues. In addition to writing and directing this one, they also decided to star in it as a pair of brothers working through their past and present together.

While there is a nice range in the cast, Callie Hernandez (Alien: Covenant) and Lew Temple (Walking Dead) are the two that stand-out alongside our dynamic duo. There are louder and brasher performances, but these two have more levels.

As writer/directors, Benson and Moorhead sensibility of character and the world is a bit like Kevin Smith, but their execution and intent is closer to Coppola or Kubrik. They’re not quite to that level yet, but their insistence on complex geometry in their plots, their liquidity of genre, and their economy of shots implies a great path for the future. The two really care about character and story. And while they’ll occasionally slip into the sophomoric, they don’t allow it to dominate their tales, only spice it.

If you liked Spring, you’ll like Endless. If you haven’t seen Spring, give this a shot for a sense of what goes on in the heads of a couple up and coming filmmakers. I can’t say I found it quite as satisfying as Spring, and it is more than a little male-heavy, but it left me thinking and intrigued on a story level, which is always a good sign.

The Endless

Ant-Man and the Wasp

[4 stars]

After the intensity of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a welcome romp. Of course, the big question going into this latest Marvel Phase III movie was where it was going to fit with Avengers: Infinity War. Would we get answers? Would we get hints? So let’s get it out of the way: this tale takes place between Civil War and Infinity War. The logic to keep them all separate from the global goings-on is a bit tortured and led, comedy-forward, by Randall Park (The Hollars). It takes a bit to piece together the situation, but director Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) returns to nicely expand the world of this lesser-known and slightly weird character and fill us in.

For instance, we get a lot more on Michael Douglas’s (Unlocked) Pym, and it is far from complimentary. Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) also gets to kick a lot more butt and drive a lot more story. Even the comic trio led by Michael Peña (Collateral Beauty) gets to move on to some new situations, though their humor and characters are more or less the same.

Some of the better aspects of casting were the addition of Michelle Pfeiffer (Murder on the Orient Express) and Hannah John-Kamen (Ready Player One), who bring some welcome female strength and some interesting characters to the MCU. Laurence Fishburne (Passengers) also has a few nice moments and an important role to play.

Interestingly, Paul Rudd (Mute) is more a passenger in this installment. It isn’t that he doesn’t do a lot, but his character doesn’t really expand…he is more the foil for everyone else, even his screen-daughter Abby Ryder Fortson. He’s a solid foil, but don’t expect a lot of character growth.

The story of Ant-Man and Wasp is somewhat expected based on the first movie, but the use of the technology has taken some inventive and considered leaps. The fights, in particular, really think through the possibilities and have great fun using it.

As a summer snack while we wait for more on Infinity War and as a set-up for yet more tales and more characters, this is great fun if still not the strongest character line in the MCU. Of course, there is a tag (or two). Stay for them if you want to know more.

[Sidenote: This is the first film (or at least major film) where I’ve seen the San Francisco skyline redefined by the Salesforce Tower. For decades, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Warf, and the Transamerica Building were the indicators for the city. With Ant-Man and the Wasp, the establishing shots focused on the skyline’s new tower. It isn’t often a city gets redefined; just interesting to note.]

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Flower

[3.5 stars]

Looking for one of the odder, darker, coming-of-age rom-coms? This will probably do you then. Well, it will do something. Flower is a delightfully enjoyable, entertaining, and weirdly bleakly hopeful story. Yeah, it really is all over the place, though some of that reaction may be due to a generation gap; hard to tell from this perspective.

The success of the story is really down (perhaps a poor choice of words) to the ebullient Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall). She continues to enchant and surprise me in her roles. She is scarily natural on film and comfortable playing whatever is necessary for the character without shame or judgement or even triumph; she just “is.” Her characters are also strong but not without levels.

Her unlikely counterpart, Joey Morgan (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), was a great foil and, ultimately, with a bit more to him than was originally obvious. And as their parents, Kathryn Hahn (The Visit) and Tim Heidecker create a backdrop that is a bit extreme, but suited to the occasion.

On the side is Adam Scott (Krampus) in a role unlike any of his others I’ve seen. It is contained and quiet, with an interesting tension underneath.

As his second feature film, Max Winkler directed this well, keeping it light but not without the gravitas it needed. Like a good sauce, it seamlessly thickens as it cooks and holds together well. Winkler also co-wrote the tale, with McAulay and Spicer (Ingrid Goes West). I can’t even imagine the story sessions this trio had coming up with the plot, but they clearly worked well together. [Sidebar: If you were hoping for the Liz Phair song that shares the titles name you’ll be disappointed; but I’m still convinced it was part impetus for this movie.]

Flower is not your traditional film, and may not be for everyone, but it is one worth seeing for its surprise and craft in front of and behind the camera.

Flower

Soap (En soap)

[3 stars]

As the title and tag promise, this is very much structured as a sort of French new wave soap opera…in Danish.

  • It is low budget.
  • It is episodic, in a sort of forced way.
  • It is full of heightened emotion and strange characters.
  • It has unlikely and crazy antics.
  • It even has a cat fight, of sorts.

But, while done in earnest, it manages to keep its tongue firmly in cheek as well.

More importantly, Soap also manages to delve into the psychology of gender identity versus gender preference, something very few movies or shows have ever really tried to present. Even Transparent mostly missed that train.

David Dencik (The Snowman) gives us a wonderful Veronica as an actor, though he is always just a bit too unshaven to be credible for me. I don’t know if that was a choice or mistake, but it was distracting. Opposite him Trine Dyrholm walks the complex line of woman attempting to understand herself and find happiness. She struggles and fails and flails, but somehow remains sympathetic even as she lashes out at those around her. 

I can’t say this is a great film. It is, however, compelling in its way. And it is funny at times too. Directed by the multiple award-winning  Pernille Fischer Christensen who also co-wrote it with Kim Fupz Aakeson (Perfect Sense), this odd comic-romance feels like a throw-back to the 70s, but somehow keeps its footing here in the present. It isn’t something you need to queue up immediately, but at some point, sure, it is an interesting evening loaded with a lot of recognized talent.

Soap

Kiss & Spell (Yeu Di, Dung So!)

[3 stars]

This Vietnamese rom-com cum horror is an amusing and touching escape for an evening. A remake, or seriously inspired by, the Korean movie Spellbound, it follows a magician and his muse as they both struggle with finding out what actually makes them happy…with a bit of the supernatural thrown in along the lines of My Left Eye Sees Ghosts.

The comedy is broad at times, but it is well-contained and not nearly as over-the-top as you might fear. Even the romantic bits remain very sweet, but never melodramatic. Thanks to the late writer/director Stephane Gauger, it balances rather well and never wanes in energy despite its two hour length. He managed to walk the line of Far East and American comedy nicely, keeping it accessible to both audiences. Even the horror bits, which lean more toward Japanese horror influence, aren’t so much scary as pointed for the tale.

Gauger had a short but impactful career. He came out of the gate strong when he shifted to the director’s chair and gathered a number of awards quickly. He clearly had a career ahead him and it is a damn shame we’ll never see what it could have been. In the meantime, he left us with a range of films worth spending some time with…this one included.