Pick of the Litter – August 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Annabelle: Creation

(New Line) Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia, Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman. A dollmaker and his wife are struck by a horrible tragedy when their little girl dies in a car accident. Grieving for years, they eventually open their home to a nun and several girls from an orphanage who need a place to stay. However, the dollmaker and his wife are hiding a terrible secret; in a moment of weakness, they allowed what they thought was the spirit of their deceased daughter to inhabit a doll they call Annabelle. But what lives inside Annabelle is something far more evil. Quietly, the Conjuring universe has become a very lucrative horror franchise with spin-offs and sequels in the works. August 11

INDEPENDENT PICKS

 

Columbus

(Superlative) John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin. Some movies are visceral and gritty; others are almost like daydreams washing over you like an incoming tide on a tropical beach. Columbus is like that as a young Korean man goes to Columbus, Indiana where his estranged father – a famous architect – lies in a coma. There he meets a bright young woman with a promising future who has her whole life ahead of her but is choosing to stay in Columbus to care for her drug-addicted mother. This movie was one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. August 4

Icarus

(Netflix) Bryan Fogel, Grigory Rodchenkov, Nikita Kamaev. A chance meeting with a Russian scientist led journalist Bryan Fogel into a netherworld of sports doping. As the story started to take the twists and turns of a Cold War-era spy thriller, people connected with the story began to turn up dead. One of the greatest scandals in the history of sports unravels before your eyes in this highly anticipated Netflix documentary. August 4

The Only Living Boy in New York

(Roadside Attractions) Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Beckinsale. A recent college graduate tries desperately to find himself at home in New York City. Despite the best efforts of his parents – or maybe because of them – he finds himself adrift. When he falls in love with a beautiful young girl whose only interest in him is platonic he feels doubly lost but then he discovers that his father is having an affair with a beautiful woman and when he stalks her and eventually begins to interact with her, his whole life changes. This is the latest from director Marc Webb who wowed me with his (500) Days of Summer. August 11

Dave Made a Maze

(Gravitas) Nick Thune, Stephanie Allynne, Kirsten Vangsness, Scott Krinsky. One of the most imaginative and enjoyable films to come out of this year’s Florida Film Festival gets its theatrical release. Dave, a kind of aimless drifter, constructs a cardboard maze in his living room one boring weekend while his girlfriend is out of town. When she comes home, she discovers that he has become lost in the maze which is much larger on the inside. Enlisting some of his hipster friends, she mounts a rescue expedition over his objections – you see, this labyrinth comes complete with a minotaur. You can read my review of the film here. August 18

Beach Rats

(Neon) Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge, Neal Huff. A young man living on the outskirts of Brooklyn struggles to find his own identity, desperate to escape a stagnant home life. Caught between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend and older men he meets online, he is left with a choice to be who he is or to be who everyone else wants him to be. This was one of the unsung films to come out of Sundance but it could wind up having some Oscar implications later this year. August 25

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Dave Made a Maze


The Tiki God of garbage gazes over his domain.

(2016) Fantasy Comedy (Foton) Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Stephanie Allynne, Adam Busch, Scott Krinsky, James Urbaniak, John Hennigan, Frank Caeti, Scott Narver, Kirsten Vangsness, Drew Knigga, Kamilla Alnes, Rick Overton, Timothy Nordwind, Etienne Eckert, Brittney Deutsch, Jessica Graves. Directed by Bill Watterson

The imagination can be a powerful thing. It can create entire worlds…entire realities. It can change one’s life in a heartbeat. Of course, it comes in real handy when making movies as well.

Dave (Thune) is one of those guys who just pisses away his life. He has a thousand ideas for things but he never follows them through to the end. As a result, as he hits 30 and wonders where his life is taking him, he feels a failure even though he has a beautiful girlfriend named Anna (Kumbhani) and a bunch of friends who think he’s cool.

One weekend, Anna is out of town on a business trip and Dave is bored out of his skull. He decides to construct a maze out of cardboard in the living room – an elaborate one. Like many projects that become obsessions, it takes on a life of its own.

When Anna arrives home, she discovers the maze in her living room and can find neither hide nor hair of Dave. Eventually she hears his voice calling from inside the cardboard creation. It turns out that he’s gotten lost in the maze. That sounds absolutely unbelievable but Dave insists that it is much bigger on the inside. Anna means to knock it down so he can get out but he begs her not to – he wants to finish something for once in his life.

He doesn’t want her to go in and get her either – a rescue mission is too dangerous as there are booby traps and trip wires. Nonetheless, Anna calls Dave’s best friend Gordon (Busch) and he calls a few other friends (despite being told explicitly not to) and soon there’s a party in Dave’s living room which includes power couple Greg (Nordwind) and Brynn (Allynne), ubernerd Jane (Vangsness), a random homeless guy (Overton), Harry (Urbaniak), a documentary film maker with his boom operator (Caeti) and camera operator (Narver) and a couple of Flemish tourists (Knigga and Alnes) and Leonard (Krinsky) who is just…Leonard.

They all go in after him and find a world they could never imagined; living origami, a Tiki God that spurts out living ribbon, rooms that evolve on their own and yes, a Minotaur (Hennigan) for good measure. Not everyone is going to make it out alive, but then again, not all of them were really living anyway.

I gotta hand it to first-time filmmaker Watterson – he has oodles of imagination. The production design here may be low-budget but it is absolutely captivating. The world of the maze isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen…well, most of it is anyway. The crew used 30,000 square feet of cardboard to construct the maze and…well, every penny is on the screen as some critics like to say.

Watterson also uses perspective as an additional effect to keep the viewer off balance, and he wisely refrains from using it overmuch. One of the things that encourage me about this new director is that he knows how to keep from being repetitive while remaining creative. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

Thune has plenty of charisma and likability in the lead role and I can see him building on this and getting some plum roles in the near future. Certainly performances like this will make him eligible for romantic comedy leads as well as straight comedies. Thune has a pretty rosy future.

There are a few faces here from TV, like Vangsness from Criminal Minds, Allynne from One Mississippi and Krinsky from Chuck but most of the others with the exception of Thune are largely not well known and Thune is known mostly for being a stand-up comic with appearances on stand-up shows and @Midnight.

Be warned though that in watching this you’re likely to suffer hipster overload. The movie is lousy with them and those who find them insufferable may find themselves heading for the exit. The soundtrack is full of indie rock and the male characters with beards. You may want to dose yourself with anti-hipster medicine before coming to see this.

That and an ending that doesn’t live up to the rest of the movie aside, this is a very strong entry in the ranks of indie films this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get some distribution from one of the big indies. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those movies that is going to show up in a lot of best of the year lists this year.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the most amazing production design you’ll see in a film this year. Thune is an engaging and earnest lead. Watterson has a good eye for perspective. One of the most imaginative films at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
REASONS TO STAY: Hipster overload. The ending is a tad weak.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director is not related to the cartoonist of the same name who created Calvin & Hobbes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cool World
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: For Ahkeem