Tag Archives: Unique

Endless Poetry (Poesía Sin Fin)

[3 stars]

Endless Poetry picks up just about where Dance of Reality left off. In fact the overlap and reuse of actors and sets is so complete I thought I had started to rewatch Alejandro Jodorowsky’s previous film and had to stop to be sure. However, it quickly veers as we follow the young Alejandro from his childhood home to Santiago. This next chapter of his life story is not about his parents so much as about his creative blooming.

Much like the last (and all of Jodorowsky’s) work, this is in his unique voice. While highly biographical and personal, it is also surreal and experimental. Not quite film and not quite theatre it flows along leaving you with incredible visuals, intriguing ideas, and moments of beauty set off by disturbing scenes of ugliness. Though I will say that this film seems to find the beauty in everything it sees, no matter how base or fouled.

As the title implies, this is the path by which our intrepid artist learns to see poetry in everything in life. It is a hopelessly optimistic approach, but not an unfair depiction of a young poet. It echos a lot of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet) early work. The rich colors, the odd characters, the fantastical approaches to life. The bottomless ability to find the positive amid the disturbing. And, ultimately, the core belief that the human spirit can not only survive anything but also use it to create art.

This is a film you watch for the experience. What you take from it will change depending on when you watch it. It is a stunning piece of vision making it worthwhile even when the story itself is so personal to Jodorowsky as to be inscrutable. But, of course, you have to like that experimental theatre feel and approach.

Endless Poetry

Roar

[2 stars] or [5 stars]

No this isn’t about the Heath Ledger Celtic prince series. This is even a bigger oddity and, by far, the most outrageous, batsh*t crazy flick I’ve ever seen. Not because of the movie itself…there really isn’t much of one…but because it was done with untrained animals. A LOT of untrained animals. I was utterly spellbound watching the film due to the insanity of it all. It truly has to be seen to be believed, which is why this has such a wonky rating. It ends up more of a curiosity than a movie, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining, in a carnival sort of way.

Roar was intended as a environmental flick masquerading (thinly) as a horror/suspense that pits Hitchcock darling Tippi Hendren (The Birds, Marnie) and her real-life family (daughter, Melanie Griffith (Automata), husband, Noel Marshall, and two of their sons) against a house of feral felines of the great cat variety. It is, in fact, the only screen credit for Marshall in front of the camera, who was more typically with producing credits. But this was a family labor of love in front of and behind the camera; Joel Marshall, another son, was doing the seamless art and production design.

There is nothing remotely believable about the acting or story in Roar, but that isn’t the reason to see it. The Marshall family personally raised well over 100 lions over the course of 11 years (five of those were during filming in the late 70s) in order to get a houseful of great cats for their vision. Honestly, you’ve just never seen anything like it (didn’t I say that already?). They even give the cats writing credit up front. The commentary and related Q&A on the disc are also fascinating and cover the background of the making of the film.

To be fair to the result, you know this isn’t meant to be taken too seriously by the music and opening credits. However, the final messages (subtle as a sledgehammer) are sadly still relevant, if not even more important, today.

While unrelated, it is worth noting that Hendren continues to work to this day, though it may still be her past we are all obsessed with. Her time with Hitchcock even inspired two different movies in recent years. Roar isn’t something she is going to be remembered for, at least for her acting, but it is a testament to her and her family’s determination and vision…and not just a little bit of crazy in there.

Roar

The Happytime Murders

[3.5 stars]

This isn’t the first R-rated puppet story put out to the public. There was the brilliant Smile Time episode of Angel, Avenue Q on Broadway, and, of course Ted. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, as does this silly and fun Brian Henson confection.

One of the things that really makes this work is that Melissa McCarthy (Life of the Party) isn’t actually the lead. Back in a supporting role capacity she adds character and her antics don’t dominate the story. The lead is Muppets veteran Bill Barretta, whose tough talking private dick hits just the right note of felt-noir to carry this all off.

There are a few supporting roles that really help as well. Maya Rudolph (Life of the Party), in particular, knew what she was in and went for it completely. Her love-lorn Bubbles is a hoot. And Elizabeth Banks (Power Rangers) had some fun with her part as well.

The world is amusing, but it never quite leaves its Muppets roots. When Angel did this, they didn’t act like puppets, they acted like, well, characters. The muppets in this tale, by plot design, are very much puppets of fluff. And the movie truly missed it opportunity to discuss prejudice in a unique and effective way, especially with McCarthy’s storyline. I will grant Henson one important directing kudos, unlike Ted, he knew when to back off a joke (most of the time).

I had fun with this, even with the “what it could have been” thoughts. It is a great end of summer escape. It is definitely unique for this year’s releases, and it is done relatively well with sense of both mystery and whimsy (even if a lot of the mystery is obvious). The first few stars are because it is a fun watch. That extra half star in my rating is for its guts to do the movie in the first place.

The Happytime Murders

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

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

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (Psiconautas, los niños olvidados)

[3 stars]

A surreal romp about finding hope in hopelessness. At least that’s what I took away from it this viewing. Pedro Rivero and
Alberto Vázquez (with additional help from Stephanie Sheh [Your Name.] and Joe Deasy) give us a landscape that borders on Bakshi’s Wizards: post-apocalyptic, mutated, venal, self-absorbed, and still focused on the value of the past rather than providing life for the future.

The main characters are children; children who are trying to survive and find purpose in a broken world. Somehow that part of the story feels very contemporary in terms of the feelings and challenges if not the specific events and issues. The overall plot echos the global trend toward migration, economic disparity, and the ecological disaster that is picking up steam with every year. But this is less warning than it is the (merest) suggestion that there is a solution if we can just hold on to what makes life worthwhile and control the darkest parts of our own selves. It makes for a pretty packed 76 minutes.

For the animation alone, this film is worth it. It isn’t grand, highly CGI’d animation, rather it is a reflection of its graphic novel roots. It is simple, but effective. The result is fascinating, inventive, and gripping at times. It refuses to blink from horror, but also often twists it to something of beauty or potential beauty. If you like the craft and enjoy challenging animation, this is worth your time.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

[4 stars]

At its heart, this is a movie about love. That is also a biopic about the creator of Wonder Woman and his bold choices in a repressed era becomes window dressing. Though, I have to admit, I will never look at Wonder Woman the same way again.

Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train), Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon), and Rebecca Hall (The Dinner) pull off a beautiful triangle. They manage to bring to life the complex emotions, fears, and desires that drove and challenged the relationship they formed without making it puerile or cliche. In our current times, it is also a great lesson in moral fibre and learning to be who you are despite societal pressures or assumptions.

There are some very nice smaller roles that are worth noting as well, JJ Feild (Captain America: The First Avenger) in particular. On the sidelines are Oliver Platt (The Ticket), and Connie Britton (Beatriz at Dinner) that provide some intriguing bridging characters too, though we never really get to know them.

Writer and director Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S.) does something wonderful with this tale. She approaches it without judgement of her characters, but rather flips that to her audience and those around the unusual family. As her second feature, it is beautifully modulated and subtle. I will say that while the romance and personal aspect of the story is very effective and believable, Robinson’s other goal (layering on Marston’s psych theory as a structure for the movie) is less effective. It doesn’t distract or diminish the film, but it doesn’t really add much to it either. You can see the ideas, you can’t avoid them given the transitions, but I didn’t find them to build on or explain much either. Frankly, it is a minor criticism in this story as it is still character appropriate and adds some interesting structure, even if it is less than impactful.

Whether you know the history of of these people, or have an interest in Wonder Woman comics, this is a story that will grab you early and keep you intrigued. Marston was no ordinary man, nor were the brilliant women he had in his life. What is fascinating is just how little things have changed since their story began in the late 1920s.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Mudbound

[3 stars]

The first part of this film is practically Spoon River on the Delta or some other kind of multi-voiced poem. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a tale to be told nor characters to get to know. Mudbound deconstructs the post-WWII South with an unflinching eye, even if it doesn’t quite have the same lyricism as Daughters of the Dust, nor the scope of The Color Purple. There is also a sense of the slice of life approach and class implications of Tree of Wooden Clogs. Suffice to say, it isn’t easy viewing, despite its moments of joy and despite its victories against all odds.

At its core, this is a simple tale of two families. Each is played well by a collection of great talent.

Carry Mulligan (Far From the Madding Crowd), Jason Clarke (Everest), Garrett Hedlund (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), and Jonathan Banks are the owners on one side of the Mississippi homestead. They cover a broad swath of sensibilities, but none of them are particularly people you’d want to praise.

The sharecroppers are led by Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan (Daredevil), and Jason Mitchell (Kong: Skull Island, Straight Outta Compton). Like the white land owners, this is a family in transition of ideas thanks in large part to WWII. And it is Mitchell who ultimately dominates the family portrayal and transition into a more modern world.

Dee Rees (Pariah) navigated the complex narrative with confidence as director and co-writer. And though her politics are clear, she does try to show a range of attitudes and people. But you can’t help but realize you are looking at the once and future America; it is the very world a number of our current leaders are actively trying to make us return to. In fact, the day I watched this was the day of the S*thole countries tweet. Sobering to say the least.

But is it a great movie? Not really. It is a well-crafted story with some very powerful performances and moments. It is an emotionally effective one at times too. But it isn’t very strong in its ultimate message nor is the narrative compelling in a way that pulls you along–it is a framed loop with a coda in structure, so you have a pretty good sense of the story before you’re more than a scene or two in. The voice-overs were generally distancing rather than informative for me; I would have preferred action to convey the ideas over being told about them. However, it is a brave, bald piece that probably does need to be seen by a good sized segment of the populace so we can avoid backsliding. And the movie is told in an unusual way with a ultimate sense of hope in the cruelest of situations; we can all use some of that these days.

Mudbound

Dave Made a Maze

[3.5 stars]

How do you describe a totally gonzo film? Endlessly inventive seems trite. Perhaps mention the fact that it won the hearts of a dozen film festivals? Or, perhaps, just mention that as director and co-writer, Bill Watterson’s deliver a surprisingly solid movie out of an idea that, in most hands, would have failed; he and Steven Sears’s script is totally absurd (in a good way). Or, maybe, that Watterson, as his first time directing, navigates the cast through the tale genuinely, which keeps it all grounded?

The cast were a game bunch, some of whom you’ll recognize and some you won’t. Nick Thune (Garfunkel & Oats, Bad Johnson) and Meera Rohit Kumbhani (Donny!) are the core of the gang and embody a lot of modern relationship issues, but are clearly committed to one another despite everything. Their friends are a motley crew of abrasive and supportive pals that are recognizable in just about anyone’s life. Adam Busch (Colony), James Urbaniak (The Boxtrolls), Stephanie Allynne (One Mississippi, In a World…), and Kirsten Vangsness (Criminal Minds) are principal in those roles. Despite the insanity around them, their performances remain calm and accepting of the insanity and focus on solving the problems.

I don’t want to oversell this film. It isn’t so much that it’s brilliant as that it is surprising. Despite its low budget and crazy ideas, it is funny and, in its way, touching. But it doesn’t really come to a conclusion. It is more a giant metaphor for imagination and artistic desire, or humanity’s drive to build and succeed. But it is definitely worth your time when you want something a bit different and wryly amusing.

Dave Made a Maze

The Disaster Artist

[3 stars]

Oddly, the reason for this rather good movie is a rather bad one. The Room; a movie so bad it has achieved cult status, raises many questions in your head beyond “how the hell did this thing ever become part of the zeitgeist?” For instance: Is belief in yourself, without self-reflection (or self awareness), an asset to success or not?

The answer to these is hard to tell given the true story behind this quasi-biopic/making of movie. As director and, appropriately enough, star, James Franco (Why Him?) took the reins in this re-enactment/retelling to expose, or maybe explain, the making of the beloved train-wreck. In fact, it is so true to the events, that side-by-side re-enactments of scenes are played just before the credit roll, and the precision is uncanny. Of course writers Neustadter and  Weber (the duo behind The Spectacular Now and The Fault in our Stars) had hours of documentary material and some insiders to help with recreating the events.

Also uncanny is Franco’s performance as Wiseau. It is a skin-crawlingly honest performance of the man; so genuine to its core that it is hard to watch at times. Dave Franco (Now You See Me 2), James’s brother, as Wiseau’s best friend turns in an equally powerful effort.

Much like The Room itself, you cannot seem to turn away from the story unfolding on the screen. Franco’s presentation of The Room this film lets you see it as an exposure of raw human longing and desire that Hollywood has instilled into the world culture. And though it feels like it has a fairy tale aspect to it in terms of financing and such, well, that is just part of the true history.

Alongside the Francos, there are many faces you’ll recognize in smaller roles. From Jacki Weaver (Equals) to Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman) and Alison Brie (GLOW) to Ari Gaynor (Wiener-Dog). Even Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) and Megan Mullally (Why Him?) have some good story lines.

So a moment about The Room itself. Sadly, I can honestly say it still isn’t the worst film I’ve seen. That dubious prize goes to either The FP or Highlander: The Source. But make no mistake, The Room is bad. Awful, in fact. It is full of cliches, bad porn styling, and a level of misogyny that is utterly breath taking. The Room isn’t inadvertently funny enough nor so bad that it requires the cult following it has spawned, but who can understand what drives pop culture? Seriously, seeing it once is more than enough, why do it again and again?  But you don’t have to have seen The Room to appreciate Disaster Artist. You get everything you need to know on screen.

But, more importantly, you ask, is The Disaster Artist, unlike its inciting roots, a good movie? Well, it is certainly well put together and faithful to its subject in tone and presentation. It pulls you in, sometimes through pure jaw-dropping lack of belief, but it does and it doesn’t let you go. And it does it with love and respect for its subjects. It is certainly a unique story and one that has left an indelible mark on Hollywood and the culture. But it is also painful to watch, like watching a small child getting hurt learning to walk or make its way in the world. Or, worse, watching old films of yourself as a young kid in a room full of your adult friends.

So enter into this with a sense of humility and a sense of humor. And ask yourself: If you had to choose, would you pick infamy over obscurity? My question isn’t the driving choice, or even intent, of Disaster Artist, but it certainly leaves you with that question as well. But it is Weaver’s character who gets to state the driving factors behind this oddity from an industry point of view. She sums it all up in a single sentence for us and the characters around her. Though, I would say that in a broader sense it is really about humanity and the desire for a connection.

Watch this at some point. Laugh and cringe, but definitely appreciate the effort that went into this docudrama. It feels effortlessly real, which is about one of the hardest things to do on screen. And expect to see Franco nominated for his Wiseau performance; it is unforgettably spooky.

The Disaster Artist