Tag Archives: comedy

Everyone shows up for THE DEAD DON’T DIE

:From left to right: Danny Glover, Bill Murray, and Adam Driver

THE DEAD DON’T DIE. Country, USA. Director: Jim Jarmusch. Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Ester Balint, Larry Fessenden, Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez. Screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch. Language: English. Runtime: 102 minutes. Venue: AMC Newport Mall. Rating: C

Eventually, it had to happen. Sooner or later every director at one point tries to delve into the horror genre and what better way to do it than the zombie flick? Jim Jarmusch isn’t actually a stranger to horror; in 2014 he directed TIlda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as languid lovers lounging in the middle of Detroit, barely alive, observing a world overtaken by zombies (i. e. “humans”). Fast forward five years ahead and Jarmusch returns to the genre in a generic and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny new movie, The Dead Don’t Die (which is also a song performed by Sturgill Simpson), a tepid take on Night of the Living Dead that features a laundry list of everyone who at one or various times worked with Jarmusch, and some social commentary on the woes of society through the staging of the action in small town Centerville. So, instead of two vampire lovers in a world they don’t recognize, we now get two yokely cops (Bill Murray and Adam Driver), with a female thrown in for scream queen moments (Chloe Sevigny), also commenting on a world that seems to have gone to hell without them knowing it.

For the most part, The Dead Don’t Die works even when the entire feature film feels as though Jarmusch left it at the level of sketch other than fully develop it. There are so many characters featured and all seem to demand as much attention as they do in their short screen time, I can’t see how this wasn’t a compendium of shorter sequences in style of Night on Earth tied together by the zombie thread.

First we have Tom Waits scuttling around the forest in full bushman regalia, observing everything happen through a safe vantage point. If anything, an despite not being credited first, he seems to be the true protagonist. Next we have Tilda Swinton in a role that makes her to be the resident eccentric who not only works at a funeral home and applies garish amounts of make up to the recently deceased but also has a penchant for sword fighting and walking in severe right angles wherever she goes. Swinton is clearly in her own movie zone, and later on it becomes clear why in a clever but WTF moment that basically, performs a magic trick and leaves us scratching our heads.

Other characters paint a rather picturesque canvas of small town life: Steve Buscemi as a stand-in for every MAGA supporter you would love to hate; Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones as unlikely partners fighting zombies in a video store, and Selena Gomez, Rosie Perez, and a gaggle of others making appearances to either enhance the mood or be sitting ducks for the insanity that is about to happen.

The one thing the undead have in common is that aside from craving human flesh they also have specific interests; the first ones to pop up (played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver) want coffee, a dead woman (Carol Kane of all people) wants chardonnay, and others cling on to smartphones hopelessly seeking for WiFi. It’s a clever little commentary on society and how undead we have become, addicted to our habits, our pleasures, even our wireless connection. It’s this, it seems, that may be behind Jarmusch’s observation of humanity as a whole planet gone to hell that still deserves a laugh. He even extends his sense of humor in a pivotal moment towards the film’s end that is the movie’s only truly standout scene. It’s so left field that it threatens to stop the picture and morph into something closer to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles’ climactic sequence.. It’s almost as if he were saying, “Look, don’t take this too seriously. It’s only a momentary lapse into crazy. Wink.” While this does indeed work (I heard several loud guffaws in the audience and I myself did a double take), it’s not quite enough to fill in for the movie’ overall feel of unfinished product. It’s because of this that in the end, The Dead Don’t Die ultimately delivers at a superficial, forgettable level equivalent to a low chuckle and a “Meh.”

LATE NIGHT: the hit movie both Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling both needed.

Emma Thompson in Late Night.

LATE NIGHT. Country: USA. Director: Nisha Ganatra. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan, John Lithgow. Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling. Language: English. Runtime 103 minutes. US Release date: June 7, 2019. Venue: Angelika Film Center, NYC, NY. Rating B.

If taken at face value, the premise of Late Night has been done many times in both film and TV: an idealistic outsider of a highly competitive company gets hired with next to no knowledge of how the agency works. The head of the agency is a terrible human being who has lost the plot on reality and may be on the verge of a replacement with someone younger and more hip. Even so, through grit and determination, the outsider slowly charms his or herself into the horrible boss’ life and career, shows him or her a valuable lesson, and either leaves for bigger and better things or continues on because now he or she has learned the ropes of how things work. Often, there will be some reluctant rapport between the newcomer and the crusty old boss, which will end in an awkward good bye or continue into something bigger and better. And that, in a nutshell, is what Late Night is. By the way I’m painting it, you would think I hate it already, even before the opening credits have rolled.

However, it’s far from the contrary. Late Night might be outrageously predictable but it has a message to convey and an entertaining story to tell, and it’s all due to the presence of Mindy Kaling doing double duty a screenwriter and an underling you want to see succeed because she’s so openly earnest and relatable. Well versed in comedy herself, Kaling’s writing develops harp characters for herself and co-star Emma Thompson who stars as Katherine Newbury. Also, alongside her writing, what seems to be making Late Night such a monster hit is its resemblance to 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, a theme whose essence it closely follows without incurring in theft or being a shameless remake.

The story goes as this: Katherine Newbury is the acidic and abrasive talk show host of “Late Night with Katherine Newbury”, a show that due to failing ratings is set to be axed by the network. Having been accused of sexism within her employ (she does not hire female writers), she impulsively hires a woman — Mindy Kaling’s Molly Patel, a woman who’s never worked comedy writing before but does admire her. She informs her writers that they need to come up with funnier jokes and make her relevant again because she’s not about to retire so soon and leave a life’s work behind. Molly initially fumbles while trying to be of use and her colleagues make it next to impossible for her to have any credibility. You can see where the story is headed, but again, the writing, the story itself, brings so much to the table that you can’t not sit there and watch as if you’d never seen this type of movie before. A crisis of faith and commitment will transpire, and somehow, Katherine and Molly will find common ground, this time in the world of stand-up, a place where Katherine herself had her big break ages ago.

So far, good for the story as it heads towards re-building the brand of Katherine’s humor the way it should be, a plot that practically ensures her stay at the top and as the queen of late night. Now, here is where I’m going to start to throw in some questions. While the entire story hinges around Katherine, what about everyone else? Molly’s personal life seems to revolve only on succeeding as a writer and while I can understand that, a more realistic approach would also bring her own personal interests into play. A tentative romance between Molly and ambitious co-writer Tom Campbell (Reid Scott) doesn’t quite develop in a convincing manner. Half the time he’s putting her down to begin with, and while it is inferred that this may be a form of self-preservation, it just comes across as thinly misguided misogyny.

But perhaps I am asking a bit much of what is basically a well-timed comedy that is exploding into wide release all over the nation and has already recouped its budget of four million. While Late Night is nowhere near grounded in reality, we can see it as Kaling affirming herself as a comedic writer and actress, which she has proven capable enough to be, It has given Emma Thompson a hit picture. Considering how her previous films (where she was the lead) have failed — The Children’s Act barely got a release and went straight to VOD, as did Alone in Berlin. Effie Gray was a total flop. You’d have to go back to 2013 to Saving Mr. Banks to find a movie of Thompson as lead that made money. [Okay, she has been in some hits, but as a minor or supporting character.] Clever of her to approach her role under a Miranda Priestly look, to assure audience identification even when her persona itself would be pretty insufferable. After all, who wouldn’t want to see an ice queen go through the humiliation process only to re-emerge bigger and better than ever? I thought so.

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: LET THE SUNSHINE IN

LET THE SUNSHINE IN
France
Director: Claire Denis
Runtime: 92 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies.com grading: C+

If there is something one can state about acclaimed French film director Claire Denis is that she definitely is unpredictable. Most directors tend to have a connected style in their storytelling, and that, one can say, defines the director’s body of work. With Denis, you can’t really say her pictures have a theme, a sense that one story somehow flows right into the other even when some of her greatest films (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum, and White Material) have taken place in Africa. Her 2013 film Bastards (Les salauds) was a compelling black hole masquerading as film-noir; the movie reeked of pure, conscious evil that lay within its characters. It was almost a horror movie by way of the human exploitation (and particularly the subjugation of women to their masculine counterparts).

Her latest entry couldn’t be more divorced from the underbelly of society and is even more removed by anything she has done before. The poorly titled Let the Sunshine In (technically, the title should read Bright Sunshine Inside) is a light as a feather character study of Isabelle (luminously played by Juliette Binoche), an artist going from one relationship to the next, each one ending in what seems to be an ellipsis. When we first see her, she’s in the middle of having sex with a married banker, That doesn’t end well, predictably so. She moves right into the arms of an actor, and then into yet an unnamed man who sweeps her off of her feet in a club to the sounds of Etta James’ “At Last“. [I sensed some perverse irony in the selection of this title, and Denis of course, delivered.]

My one problem with the movie stems from the fact that other than a leisurely paced portrait of a woman who’s basically clueless about herself and what she wants, Let the Sunshine In never quite manages to intrigue you about Isabelle’s misadventures in a way that Woody Allen’s female-centric studies do. It takes the very late entrance of a certain French actor posing as one thing, but being something completely different, to neatly explain Isabelle to us, even when she herself remains totally and tonally blind. Perhaps this is what Denis’ movie is meant to be: a snapshot of a ridiculous woman, on a love treadmill, going nowhere. Maybe I need to see this odd little film again when it reaches US cinemas (a thing that seems meant for next year). Directors love to play games on their audiences and remain one step ahead. For now, my impression is that of a movie that didn’t quite deliver despite having a brilliant star on scene for 90 minutes, living, breathing, and failing to love.






TULIP FEVER

 

TULIP FEVER

UK / USA
Director: Justin Chadwick
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading: D

It’s always a warning sign when a movie keeps getting pushed back and back until its distributor has no more options than to release it and hope to recoup some revenue. The atrociously titled Tulip Fever, a movie that makes you think it will be a documentary about the famed Dutch flower, lands with such a mighty thud that it basically cracks the pavement and sends shock-waves. That’s how bad it is, and it’s a shame, because it’s often sumptuous to look at; the production and art direction is a feast for the eyes. It should have been better by miles being that Tom Stoppard (who wrote Shakespeare in Love) wrote it, and Justin Chadwick directed it.

Tulip Fever is the story of a poor Dutch girl named Sophia (Alicia Vikander, rapidly turning into an overrated actress stuck in awful period pictures) who gets sold into a marriage of convenience to a wealthy merchant named Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz, cast against type) who truly loves her despite her inability to have children. Wanting to remember their happiness together (and his luck at finding such a beautiful wife) he commissions a young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan, completely dead in the eyes) to paint their portrait. It’s no shocker that Sophia and Jan will find themselves in a hot and heavy tangle of passions, but then the story decides to branch out to other realms, and gets so complicated you’re taking notes to find out who’s on first, second, and third.

A maid (Holliday Grainger) gets pregnant by her also hot and heavy boyfriend (Jack O’Connell, completely miscast and wasted in about five minutes of screen time). Sophia gets a bright idea to feign a pregnancy in order to give Cornelius a child. Meanwhile, that romance that she was having with Jan takes a hike and for a large chunk of the movie all we see is him getting into the tulip trade in order to score big, and finally whisk Sophia away to The Good Life, somewhere. That plan backfires, and by then, all logic has flown out the window, turned into something Edgar Allan Poe on a happy day would have written in his sleep, and we’re left with nothing but the feeling that somehow, the author of this trashy story is chuckling to herself at having sold gullible readers a pile of rubbish for them to chew up like famished survivors of a downed ship that has been at sea for months.

My issue with this beautiful, overplotted train wreck is more the fact that it never knows what it wants to be: a sex farce, a drama, a romance, or a thriller with slight Gothic overtones. While you have Tom Hollander and Judi Dench providing much needed levity in their small roles as smarmy doctor/lecher and abbess, Zach Galifanakis’ presence gets the WTF performance of the year. Other than that, this is a terrible, misguided botch that will most likely die soon at the box office before the current month is over. If you choose to watch this mess, make sure you’ve drank a good amount of the good stuff. It’s soften the blow, trust me.






INGRID GOES WEST

INGRID GOES WEST

USA
Director: Matt Spicer
Runtime: 95 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading: B+

Everything  you need to know about Ingrid Thornburg, the anti-heroine of Matt Soler’s movie, gets summed up in that excellent opening montage of social media screenshots of an impossibly happy woman going through life while we slowly see Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), wide-eyed, staring at her phone for what seems hours and hours, clicking on every picture, liking everything she sees whether she really grasps its meaning or not, and then paying the girl a surprise visit. It doesn’t end very well, needless to say, and her slow recovery to a semblance of normalcy leads her away from the object of her unrequited friendship to another one, the sunny Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who sells merch on Instagram.

You probably know where this is heading.

And despite that the story does move in a predictable manner in template only, bringing Ingrid across the country and into plastic LA where everyone is a social media star, you keep expecting for the moment that Ingrid and Taylor will cross paths, because now that we’ve been given a preamble, we have to now see the whole train wreck in slow motion. Soler does not disappoint, bringing these complete polar opposites closer until Ingrid’s quick thinking lands her basically at Taylor’s home for dinner. Just like that, she’s basically hanging with her new friend, sharing secrets while pilfering through her place and reading everything about her in order to emulate her new fixation, not knowing that eventually, the high must reach a ceiling, the mirror will start to show its cracks, and things will be bound to get ugly.

Now, as for the ugly part, I do wish Soler had decided to take his tale into Fatal Attraction/Single White Female territory. Let me explain: it’s not that it doesn’t go there — just when you thought Ingrid couldn’t cross That One Line, she goes and crosses yet another (if she even sees a line, which I believe her character’s disorder doesn’t), the movie goes soft. It’s as if the movie, already at the edge of insanity, would prefer to keep it light and sunny. In turn, Ingrid’s crucial scene involving a phone comes off almost mawkish. Also a bit insincere was the attempt to somewhat bring Taylor down a couple of notches: while her character from the word go is as flighty and insecure as they come — who can live up to the pressure of so much popularity and sunshine without feeling that unless they are what they convey, they’re actually meaningles — she’s not even remotely operating on the same cylinders as Ingrid.

Whatever you make of it, Ingrid Goes West is solid entertainment and a showcase for Aubrey Plaza who has the difficult task of making a hideous psychopath likeable. Also pleasing on the eyes, a small performance by Billy Magnussen who shows off quite a bit and operates as the audience’s surrogate.






LOST IN PARIS

LOST IN PARIS (PARIS PIEDS NUS)

France
Director: Dominic Abel and Fiona Gordon
Runtime: 82 minutes
Language: French, English

If it were any more lightweight Lost in Paris would probably just float away like the balloons in Up. The husband and wife team of Dominic Abel and Fiona Gordon have created this completely unexpected surprise, a wispy little trip to escapism.  This is the type of filmmaking that no one makes anymore because it’s been considered either out of fashion or just a bit too outre for the type of audiences who go see comedies, even French ones. It feels completely fresh and yet outside of its own time, an oddity that somehow works solely due to the rubbery physiques of Gordon and Abel who push their bodies to the very limit with stunts in the same vein as Harold Lloyd, circa Safety Last!, The Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and even very early Looney Tunes.

Bespectacled Fiona works in the Canadian mountains as a librarian and longs to see Paris. Fortunately, a letter sent to her by her elderly aunt Marthe (Emmanuelle Riva) sends Fiona off to Paris for a visit. Seems simple, right? Not really. Getting there becomes the longest path from point A to B as Fiona, on arriving to Paris, suffers pratfall after pratfall, finds her aunt missing, and having nowhere to go, sets off to find Marthe with a love-struck vagabond trailing (Dominic Abel) trailing after her. Ethereal as it is, Lost in Paris gets grounded by Gordon and Abel who make a great sparring, comedic couple. Watching Riva clearly have a ball and even hoofing it a bit in a park scene with veteran actor Pierre Richard is a delight,and made me think — considering Riva has two more films as-yet unreleased — this may be the final time I would see her on film, in this gentle, sweet comedy.






2017 TRIBECA NASTIES ON DVD: TAKE ME & HOUNDS OF LOVE

Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) gets tied up in Take Me.

THE BIG SICK
USA
Director: Pat Healy
Runtime: 85 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading: C–

Bad movies exist in all shapes and sizes and have only one purpose: to make you wonder what went wrong that they deserve to be considered such. Maybe it was the direction that was too flat, or too uninviting; perhaps the acting was so bad it bordered on camp; there’s a laundry list of possible misfires that could have contributed to the failure of a movie to deliver and be remembered in a good way. Tribeca, a film festival that often showcases films by new and rising directors, sometimes takes the word ‘new’ and runs with it; for a festival that showcases nearly 100 films of all shapes, sizes, and genres during its two week run in April, it can have the luxury to show several turkeys and still get away with it (and make a neat profit).

Take Me, an incompetent comedy-thriller-character piece directed and acted by Pat Healy, an indie character actor whose most notable credit was being the creepy-as-fuck voice of the ‘cop’ in the Craig Zobel indie thriller Compliance from 2012, falls under that nebulous category of bad film that makes it to Tribeca because, film, right? To explain: somehow, the movie gets selected, bows at Tribeca, and lands in  VOD distribution (although it has a guaranteed slot at the midnight hour at IFC for a week or two). There, it thrives at a price of 6.99, a price much preferable than its 15 dollar tag in theaters, and people like me and you can watch without feeling cheated out of our hard-earned money and forget about it moments later. Not to digress about the film, but I guess it just shows that anyone with access to a camera can make a movie, but hey, what do I know. Let’s just say, this is one smelly turkey.

To keep it short, the premise is almost identical to the one Neil LaBute presented in his much superior Some Velvet Morning (a movie I highly recommend you watch on Prime for free if you haven’t; it’s that good). The crucial difference is that of subtlety. LaBute’s little film is a masterclass in restraint that threatens to explode between the two actors cohabiting a tense New York apartment and with dialog that melts from their viperous lips; Take Me offers no such gifts in dialog or performances and is basically blunt-force trauma masquerading as edgy cinema. From the word go we know what is happening; Healy runs an agency that pretends to kidnap people for a space of 8 hours as fetish — basically, an S & M company in which the person will be abducted, tortured, and released, all for a fee that Healy will collect. This time, however, he gets a call from a woman, Anna St Clair (Schilling) who wants to disappear for a weekend and is not afraid to get slapped around. She’s willing to pay him a plum sum upfront, mind you.

Healy takes the offer, and while the abduction sequence is still disturbing to see as it’s filmed dead on, and it’s followed by an interrogation sequence that while bizarre is still jarring, it never really makes us feel that this is something real (the movie has a lengthy prologue, and as if to nail it, another explanatory scene, with the intention of letting us know what we’re in for). Something starts to emerge in the fallout of the two actor’s encounter. It looks for a good while that Anna might not even know why she’s in the predicament and a news item seems to confirm that. Healy wonders if he’s in over his head, and tries to work things out with Anna, but Anna shifts from victim to temptress so quickly, and we never truly connect with Healy’s character, that it becomes impossible to watch except from a distance and look at the clock to see how much time there is left to this.

It is a shame because there are a couple of moments when Take Me adds little spark to its narrative: there is a side character, Healy’s sister (Alicia Delmore), who leaves a comic impression so strong that one would wish the movie had brought her in to complicate matters to a boiling degree. However, the two leads are so unsympathetic in every way that we just get to watch them go through the motions and attempt to out-guess where they’ll go next and what will the story turn into. A third act power reversal proves little cleverness in the plot procedures, and by the time the credits start rolling, I felt as though my time had been wasted by a story that didn’t quite pull it together. Take Me is not the movie you want to see if you like smart thrillers. For that, stick to The Game, or Some Velvet Morning.

HOUNDS OF LOVE
Australia
Director: Ben Young
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading: B+

Inspired, it seems, by the Moorhouse Murders, a series of crimes committed by David and Catherine Birnie who abducted, raped, tortured, and killed four women (their fifth was unsuccessful) in the 1980s, Hounds of Love is a gritty exploration of the darkest forms of love between two psychopaths addicted to their own perversions. The opening is a shocker for its combination of slow-motion images of girls playing volleyball in a Perth high school, while a couple, John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) stalk them in a vehicle. Cut to a scene later in the middle of the afternoon as the couple approaches one of the girls as she walks home and offer her a ride. The girl accepts. We later see shots of her, dead, in the White’s home. It’s all done in one short chilling series of takes, effectively laying out how matter-of-fact something as horrifying as snuffing the life out of a person can me under the right circumstances.

And of course, once is never enough. We’ll never know how many murders the Whites may have committed but it’s clear that where there was one, there will be more. And, sure enough, shortly after we get introduced to Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), a troubled teenager angry over the split between her parents Maggie and Trevor (Susie Porter and Damian de Montemas), we see her on her way to a party while staying with her mother and getting lured into the White’s vehicle. The abduction sequence is so brilliantly done, because it starts out as casual conversation between neighbors, evolves into an offer that plays onto Vicki’s own innocence, then lands her into the nightmare hell that is the White house as they, in one static shot, chain Vicki onto a bed while she kicks and screams for help.

Luckily, Ben Young, the director behind this explosive debut picture, isn’t content to turn this into another version of exploitation or abduction porn. Vickie may be young but she’s not naive and look for her interactions with Evelyn to unsettle her and perhaps by doing so, secure her own freedom. Look for how delicate certain scenes between Vicki and John are handled — yes, they are perverse, but then again, how can one approach what must be suburban hell where death is certain without venturing into queasy territory? Where the movie plays strongest is in focusing on Evelyn and John and their twisted dynamics: Evelyn, implied to be a willing victim who’s allowed herself to be a puppet for John’s deviant passions, rants and rages at the very thought that Vicki could be a possible replacement in a scene where John takes Vicki into a room but locks the doors, leaving Evelyn the third wheel. John meanwhile, continues to deliver promises to kill the girl . . . when in fact he has no intention of doing so.

Hounds of Love won’t be for everybody due to its subject matter, a topic that has become almost ubiquitous on Discovery ID (if you follow some of their shows about evil women or twisted couples). There is always danger to overdo the sexual violence against a younger person and on at least one occasion it gets almost too hard to watch. However, this is a strong, muscular debut picture that is much more restrained even in its more harrowing moments. It’s to its success that it also has a trio of actors committed not only to the ugliness of the situation at hand but at their psychological make-up, Add to that a slight twist that builds to a remarkably suspenseful crescendo and you have yourselves one damn good movie and a director to pay attention to.

Hounds of Love is available on VOD via Amazon Prime. Take Me is on Netflix On Demand.






THE LITTLE HOURS

Aubrey Plaza stars in this baudy, raunchy comedy about nuns who encounter a rather studly “mute” (Dave Franco).

THE LITTLE HOURS
USA
Director: Jeff Baena
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Do not let the habits, or the setting, or the religious imagery fool you. The Little Hours is a rip-roaring, baudy comedy that owes its dues to Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, Mel Brooks movies, and maybe even some early John Waters. Loosely based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, namely the first story of the third day, The Little Hours focuses on the lives of nuns (Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, and Kate Micucci) living in relative serene, religious bliss who encounter a young man (Dave Franco) who’s been taken as an apprentice by their priest (John C Reilly). The young man had escaped certain death by his master (Nick Offerman) who caught him having sex with his wife (Lauren Weedman, who’s gone too soon from the film and boasts some razor-sharp scenes with Offerman) and wanted him dead. The priest has decided to have him work in their convent and learn from his sins without knowing that the nuns who live under his roof are not the typical, God-fearing type but strikingly savvy and in need of a man to satisfy their passions. For its brief run — the movie itself is a mere 90 minutes from opening to closing credits — The Little Hours is a laugh a minute riot and manages to throw everything at the audience, from ferocious verbal assaults in modern speech by the nuns themselves to some truly off-the-wall performances by all involved, and even when the entire thing starts to wear just a shade thin — because how long can you keep the crazy running at all cylinders before something starts to give –, this is a solidly entertaining little comedy that will erase all  your momentary troubles away and even boasts a little gravitas underneath its farcical exterior, as we get to see a picture of how difficult it was for women to live back in the 1300s. Go see this one — it’s a shot of fresh air.






WIENER-DOG

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

wiener-dog-greta-gerwig-banner

I think it’s safe to say that watching a Todd Solondz movie isn’t exactly a pleasurable experience. There’s always the sense that you watched something subversive dressed in a deft appearance of quirk, people who live alienated even from themselves, afraid to really reach out. While nothing here is as transgressive as some of the elements of, let’s say, his 1998 movie Happiness, Solondz happily presents a series of vignettes where the sole presence of a dachsund manages to somehow upset or alter the existences of the people with whom it comes in contact to. I’m going to safely infer that this is not the same dachsund, or that the poor dog is caught in a loop of scenarios and we’re only privy to the four that Solondz presents to us (with a faux intermission exactly 45 minutes in, the halfway mark), because not mentioned but felt — sensed — is the feeling that what we as viewers are witnessing is a warped meta-reality that changes once the desired effect is over, like a vaguely perverse kaleidoscope. Where the dog, called Wiener-dog in the first sequence, upends a rather sterile household led by a frazzled Tracy Letts and a neurotic Julie Delpy (who has the task of explaining the matters of life and death to her recovering son), the same gets abducted by a gawky, uber-shy Greta Gerwig portraying the character Heather Matarazzo played in Welcome to the Dollhouse who in turn goes on a road trip with a guy (Kieran Culkin) she reconnects with, with some sweet results despite hints of drug use and instability). The same dog makes it appearance again as Danny deVito’s pet, and while it has less to do — mainly, this is deVito playing an out of touch writer/professor, it does have an uproarious sequence of mistaken terrorist device that points towards a post 9-11 hysteria.

It’s in the final sequence where Solondz shows his feral grin and it’s a doozy. Without telling much about it, I think it’s safe to say that whatever Solondz was trying to say is compressed in this one mini-story. The dog’s name is Cancer, but that’s not the point: it’s the artificiality of life itself: Ellen Burstyn, robed and under thick sunglasses, croaks and acts like a miser while revealing she posed nude once. Her niece has come to visit, she says she has a part in a movie, but really, she needs money for her boyfriend named Fantasy who’s an artist who hates –HATES — to be compared to Damien Hirst. In a surreal twist, Fantasy and Burstyn’s maid Ivette are dressed in almost identical pink and khaki colors (that may have been an in-joke only Solondz will know about). Once Burstyn’s niece and Fantasy exit the scene, she is faced by clones of the person she could have been “if…” which somewhat echoes the previous storyline where De Vito’s character has become stagnant in his “what if…” approach to storytelling. I’m not going to say how this plays out, but suffice to say, it is as demented as twisted as anything Solondz has ever done and then some. Suffice to say that he doesn’t just go right over the edge — he dives headlong right into it, and ends the film in an exclamation point.

Caveat emptor!






A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

Tom Hanks returns to the screen in this rather small, intimate affair as yet another businessman / negotiator having to travel to another country to present an offer to a person in power and hope they bite the bait. This time he’s not in any sort of danger as he was in Bridge of Spies or Captain Philips; if anything, the only thing he might be is sick, and then A Hologram for the King reveals another story underneath the surface, and in that I think, is where it succeeds.

A Hologram for the King starts with a clever scene: Alan steps in for David Byrne and becomes the performer for what seems to be a video for Once in a Lifetime, but is in reality the events of his own life: he’s lost his wife, his house, and is in the middle of a flight to Saudi Arabia where he will attempt to sell a communications system to the reigning king that uses holograms. That actual sales pitch keeps getting postponed due to a series of events that Alan can’t control. His office is located in a hot tent with no food and the bare minimum. No one seems to know where the king is. A Danish analyst (Sidse Babett Knudsen) offers a little breadth of freshness, but can’t really do much else. One morning, when Alan again is told that the king will not be in Alan decides to take the day off from work and alongside Yousef, a taxi driver he befriends (Alexander Black), go get a tumor he’s got in his back checked out at the nearest clinic. There he meets Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), who performs a biopsy. Their meet is pregnant with unspoken promise, but Alan is then seen trekking into Mecca and deep into the country alongside Yousef where he gets into a misunderstanding with a local man who takes a flippant comment very seriously.

Where does this all end? It doesn’t matter; the business pitch is more an excuse for Alan’s prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia, but it all works out for the better. If anything, I believe the true story happens when Alan and Zahra’s storylines come progressively closer, and then it all falls into place as Hologram turns into a romance — restrained due to cultural obligations, yes, but a romance nevertheless.

This is a rather gentle comedy that probably won’t make too much noise (it’s already left theaters in New York City and will probably play for the requisite one-week-only engagement throughout the country). Even so, A Hologram for the King is a subtle little movie about one man’s journey to love.