Tag Archives: happysad

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!

SING STREET

Sing Street. :

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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The 80s will be forever marked in my psyche as the decade that defined me, my taste in music, art, and what introduced me to the very adult feelings of love, hate, fear, courage, self-assertion, hate, all in incipient form waiting to be germinated. How curious for me to walk into the Angelika last week and see this movie which I knew nothing about and see that its main character, a young Irish boy living in Dublin, formed a rock band to impress a slightly older girl who lives across the street where he goes to school?

It could have almost been my autobiography, in a way. Seeing Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a kid who at the start of the movie we learn was placed in a cheaper — what we could call “public” school in the Caribbean — school where truants and skinheads ran amok and teachers (in this case, Irish Catholic priests) paid homage to bullying the student into submission, I could see myself at about the same age when the story starts, trying to survive in lieu of fitting in. Fitting in is not Conor’s thing: he’s too educated, to different in every step of the way, so by default he’s set to be the fall guy for every bully looking for a quick brawl.

Enter Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a girl who lives across the street from the school and could often be seen standing there in trendy outfits, almost posing if you will. Conor musters up the courage to go talk to her. He’s totally impressed by her and he barely even knows who she is, and as luck and teenage lust would have it he farts a band out of his own ass and tells Raphina he’ll be sending her a demo for his new song. The catch: he neither has a song, much less a band.

SING STREET
SING STREET

While Conor’s parents bicker constantly, his brother witnesses his first clumsy attempts at music and feeds Conor LPs of pop artists of the moment. It’s through here that Conor and a gaggle of classmates and neighbors form a band called Sing St., a band that could have very well existed in the New Romantic / Brit Invasion of the early to mid 80s (the story takes place approximately around 1985-86). They start playing cheap covers, but soon enough a synergy forms between Conor and band leader Eamon (Mark McKenna) and they start jamming on their own, coming up with some pretty sharp tunes that sound of the period. Raphina becomes their go-to model, but she has other ambitions — to get the fuck out of dodge and start anew in London as a model. She also has other problems, one of them, having an off-screen dysfunctional relationship with an older guy.

Despite the predictability of the story, I’m going to recommend it mainly because it’s every kid’s true coming of age via the catharsis of pop music not just of the 80s but of any period and time. Conor, and also his troubled older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, whom I recently saw in Glassland) have a wonderful symbiotic relationship that bolsters each other’s existence. Brendan seems to see in Conor the person he could have been and of course, pushes him to do his best and be authentic. While later events conspire to tear the brotherly fabric apart, this to me is the most solid relationship in the movie, because even when Conor and Raphina somehow become a rather unsteady item, I have serious doubts that it would last past their teen years.

Even so, much of the action is kept on a positive, upbeat note and this keeps Sing St. from becoming cloying and unbearably sad. It is a treasure trove of 80s pop tunes and the homages are all over the place, from Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet to The Cure, The Jam, Depeche Mode, but ultimately the film belongs to the kids who create and perform some remarkable tunes. It’s not exactly perfection, but I will say, I cheered when the credits rolled and even felt a dab of emotion when I saw how far these characters had come in such a compressed period of time. For the nostalgics, for anyone who lived and loved the 80s, this is the right picture to watch and play on repeat like a long MTV video.