Pop Aye


Never get between a man and his elephant.

(2017) Drama (Kino Lorber) Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Bong, Chaiwat Khumdee, Naronng Pongpab, Yukontorn Sukkijja. Directed by Kirsten Tan

Sometimes we get feelings in our lives that threaten to overwhelm us, feelings we just can’t ignore. They become the elephant in the room, that feeling like we don’t fit in any longer or never fit in, that life has somehow managed to pass us by. Sometimes it takes a desperate action to get our lives back in order.

Thana (Warakulnukroh) is an architect who no longer feels at home in the firm he helped put on the map. Once a brilliant, bright shining future, he designed Gardenia Square, a shopping center which is now slated for demolition a mere twenty years after it was built. The son of his former boss now runs things and has replaced most of the architects with younger men who look at Thana as something of a dinosaur whose only use is to provide files.

Things are bad at home as well. His wife Bo (Sirikul) no longer seems attracted to Thana – and to be fair, his attempts at seduction are mostly awkward. Bo lives to shop and while her husband was a well-respected architect, there were plenty of things to buy. These days she knows she’s married to a man widely regarded as a fool and their marriage is a shell that isn’t going to last much longer. She seems shallow when we first meat her but as the movie goes on we see that there are heretofore hidden depths that explain her actions somewhat.

One day in the streets of Bangkok Thana spies an elephant (Bong) who he believes to be the elephant that he once had as a boy in the village of Loei, some 300 miles northeast of Bangkok. Nicknamed Popeye after a favorite cartoon of his as a youth (he trained the elephant to do the “toot toot” at the end of the “I’m Popeye the sailor man” theme), the elephant is mostly a means of making a quick buck for the mahout that owns him. Wanting more for his beloved elephant, Thana buys him on the spot and tries to bring him home but Bo is not having it.

Instead, Thana who has grown tired and disillusioned with city life decides to return to Loei where Thana’s Uncle Peak (Pongpab) will care for the creature. He and Popeye begin a journey from the bustling city of Bangkok into rural Thailand where they will meet a bevy of eccentric characters, including a transgender woman named Jenny (Sukkijja) who Thana treats with some compassion and who eventually gets a chance to return the favor, Dee (Khumdee), a gregarious homeless man living in an abandoned gas station who knows that his days are numbered but only regrets having left the love of his life whom he wishes to connect with one last time and a pair of officious police officers who are trying to move Thana and Popeye to the police station for “violating urban tidiness” even though the cops encounter the two on a road in the middle of nowhere.

All of these encounters serve to help Thana grow into a different man, one at peace with the disappointments of his life. While it may be true, as Thomas Hardy once put it, that you can never go home again, Thana finds out the secret to life; home is where you are at.

Tan was born in Singapore and has lived in a variety of places including Thailand where she worked as a t-shirt vendor on the streets of Bangkok. Now based in New York after attending the Tisch School of Visual Arts, she has made several impressive shorts. This is her feature-length film debut and it is a strong one. The movie has a gentle kind of surrealism to it that makes of unusual situations a kind of normality that makes them more palatable to the viewer. There is a sense of humor throughout but it is a gentle one, more of a chuckle than a guffaw at the ridiculousness of life.

The cast is mainly unprofessional but they do a fair enough job in conveying the various eccentricities of the various characters involved.  Warakulnukroh, a former progressive rock musician, manages to convey the puzzlement of Thana as he moves through a life that has left him behind. I don’t get the sense that he’s trying to adjust very much; he seems to be fairly bothered by the situation but doesn’t seem too motivated to change things until Popeye shows up. Khumdee also has some quiet moments that are compelling in his all-too-brief appearance here.

Most important here is the elephant and he is more expressive than a lot of human actors I’ve seen. I’ve never had the privilege of looking directly into the eyes of an elephant but there is a wisdom and sadness locked in those pachyderm eyes, an emotion that conveys empathy for the plight of Thana and by extension, himself. In many ways, Popeye is our avatar, marching slowly and resolutely towards an end that is pre-ordained but not necessarily without surprise. It is indeed the journey and not the destination since we’re all headed the same way anyway.

The movie is pretty slow-paced and might have benefited from some shorter more concise scenes particularly in the middle third. Keep in mind that an elephant never gets anywhere from anywhere else quickly so your best bet is to sit back and just enjoy the ride and that’s really good advice for watching any movie like Pop Aye. Allow it to wash over you and immerse you in its gently skewed universe. The ending is a little unexpected which is most appreciated, and you never really know what’s around the next bend in the road. All good journeys are like that.

REASONS TO GO: The film has a low-key sense of humor. The elephant is a keeper.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a touch too long and may be too slow-paced for some viewers. Some characters just fade from the movie without explanation.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual situations as well as brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tan won the screenwriting award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, becoming the first filmmaker from Singapore to win an award at the prestigious event.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Walkabout
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: I Don’t Feel at Home In this World Anymore

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)


Working on the railroad all the live-long day.

Working on the railroad all the live-long day.

(2013) Comedy (Music Box) Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skaringer, Jens Hulten, Bianca Cruzeiro, Alan Ford, Sven Lonn, David Shackleton, Georg Nikoloff, Simon Sappenen, Manuel Dubra, Cory Peterson, Kerry Shale, Philip Rosch, Keith Chanter, Patrik Karlson, Johan Rheborg, David Hogberg, Alfred Svensson, Eiffel Mattsson. Directed by Felix Herngren

Florida Film Festival 2015

Our lives have a certain texture and richness that we don’t really detect while we’re living it. Some of us labor in obscurity, affecting only those we’re close to and loved by. Others are destined not necessarily for greatness, but for greater effect.

Alan Karlsson (Gustafsson) is one such man. From the time he was a boy, he loved to blow things up, a gift from his father who was a bit of a revolutionary and died espousing contraceptives as the means to a better society. Alan’s penchant for explosives would eventually get him put into a mental hospital and later in life, into a retirement home.

It is in the latter place that one day – on his 100th birthday as a matter of fact – he just decides to step out of his window and leave. Nobody sees him go, and Alan manages to make it to the bus station and has just enough money on him to purchase a ticket to the middle of nowhere. While he’s waiting for the bus to come, a pushy biker sort (Sappenen) insists that Alan watch his suitcase while he’s in the bathroom. When Alan’s bus arrives, he absent-mindedly takes the suitcase with him. What Alan doesn’t know is that there is 50 million kroner inside the suitcase.

The bus lets him off in a one-horse Swedish town where the train no longer runs. Julius (Wiklander) watches over the train station and graciously takes Alan in for lunch and drinks, the latter of which Alan is more enthusiastic about. Their little party is broken up by the arrival of the pushy biker who wants his suitcase back in the worst way but the two old men manage to subdue him and lock him in a freezer.

Taking to the road, Julius and Alan meet up with Benny (Wiberg), a perpetual college student who has no degree yet despite having taken 920 credits in classes over 18 years but can’t make up his mind what he wants to do with his life, and later on with Gunilla (Skaringer), a lovely young Bohemian who is keeping a purloined elephant in her barn. Chasing them is Gaddan (Hulten), the leader of the biker gang whose pushy member had unwittingly given the suitcase to Alan, and Pim (Ford), the English drug lord whose cash it is.

In the meantime, Alan reminisces about his remarkable life which took him to the Spanish Civil War (where he saved General Francisco Franco’s life), the Manhattan Project (where his suggestion helped J. Robert Oppenheimer solve a critical problem with the atomic bomb and led to him having a tequila drinking session with then-Vice President Harry Truman), the Soviet Union (where he would eventually be imprisoned with Albert Einstein’s slow-witted brother) and the C.I.A. (where he would be a double agent passing useless information between both sides).

In that sense, this is a bit of a Forrest Gump-like film in which Alan drifts through history, and the parallels are a bit striking. While not quite as slow as Gump, Alan is certainly not the brightest bulb in the chandelier and kind of allows life to take him where it will, avoiding disaster often by the slimmest of margins.

This is based on a massively popular novel that is available here in the States. The movie version was a huge hit in Sweden where it recently became the biggest box office success of any Swedish-made movie in history. The distributor is the same group that brought the Millennium trilogy to American shores and is hoping for a similar type of success. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep those unfamiliar with the book guessing as to where the plot is going.

Certainly that sort of success would be merited here. I found it funny in a less over-the-top way than American comedies are these days. Comedies coming from America seem to be hell-bent on pushing the envelope of good taste and excess (which isn’t of itself a bad thing); this is more content to use absurd situations and serendipity to get its humor across. This is definitely more old school and those who prefer the comedies fast-paced and frenetic will likely find this slow and frustrating.

Gustafsson is one of Sweden’s most popular comic actors and we get a good sense why; his comic timing is impeccable and his mannerisms as the 100-year-old Alan are pitch-perfect. He gets able support from Wiberg who plays perhaps the most indecisive man ever, Hulten as the crazed biker and Ford as the apoplectic drug lord (Ford played a similar role in Guy Richie’s Snatch). Throughout Herngren hits the right notes and allows the comedy to happen organically rather than force things.

There are a few quibbles – the narration is a bit intrusive and there are some factual errors (for example, President Roosevelt actually died three months before the Trinity atomic test, not after) but for the most part the movie is pleasant and funny, though not life-changing. It’s the perfect tonic for a bad day and if you need further praise than that, you just must not have many bad days.

REASONS TO GO: Oddball sense of humor. Forrest Gump in Europe. Absurdly funny.
REASONS TO STAY: Narration is a bit intrusive.
FAMILY VALUES: Some crude humor, a little violence and some bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gustafsson estimated that if all the time he spent in the make-up chair was tallied, he would have been there three uninterrupted weeks 24/7 in the chair when all was said and done.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cocoon
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Danny Collins

Red Riding Hood


Red Riding Hood

Gary Oldman reacts to charges that this is Twilight with werewolves.

(2011) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, Lukas Haas, Shauna Kane, Michael Hogan, Adrian Holmes, Cole Heppell, Michael Shanks. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

The woods are deep and dark for a reason. There are things there that defy the world we know and keep to the shadows, leaping out only when some helpless unsuspecting maiden passes by.

Valerie (Seyfried) lives in a bucolic village in the woods surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It is winter and the woods have become dark and threatening. It is full moon night and a sacrifice is being left out for the wolf that has beset their village for generations.

She has been in love with Peter (Fernandez), a woodcutter who works with her father Cesaire (Burke) who mostly drinks. Her mother Suzette (Madsen) however has promised her to another – Henry (Irons), the blacksmith’s boy and considerably well-to-do in a village like this. It’s a great match – only Valerie loves Peter, not Henry.

Things start to go wrong when Valerie’s sister turns up dead at the hands of the wolf. The townspeople go out to hunt the beast dead. It turns out the hunters killed a beast but not the beast. They call in Father Solomon (Oldman), an expert hunter who asserts they have a werewolf at work – and the beast lives among them in their human form.

Suspicion turns on everyone, from Valerie’s quirky grandma (Christie) living out in the woods by herself to Valerie herself. At first the villagers pooh-pooh the good Father but when the werewolf crashes their celebration, there is no longer any doubt that they are dealing with a diabolical beast. But which one of them is it? And can they stop the beast in time?

Director Catherine Hardwicke last did Twilight and obviously this is the kind of thing that is in her comfort zone. It has all the elements that made that movie a hit; a virginal lead forced to choose between two hotties that have a secret that involves the supernatural. However, what this movie lacks is that sense of tragedy that makes the hearts of teen girls go pitter pat. Twilight works because there’s that knowledge that Bella and Edward can never be together and because if they do, they will both be changed forever.

That’s not here at all; there’s nothing epic about the romantic angle at all and say what you will about the Twilight series, that quality is there in spades. You have to care about the couple in a romantic fantasy or else it doesn’t work. Here, the sparks never really fly. Seyfried is a fine actress and Fernandez and Irons are both pretty good in their own rights, but the chemistry fails here.

The location is really beautiful which is inevitable because it’s mostly computer generated. Majestic snow-capped mountains, endless dark green swaths of forest and quaint vaguely-Germanic villages make it a fantasy setting right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In a sense, the location is too perfect, too bucolic – at times the sense of menace that should be palpable is overwhelmed by the charm of the setting.

The werewolf itself is also a bit of a letdown – it’s more of a big shaggy dog than anything else and the wolfish side which should be wild and untamed is suborned by a silly ability to communicate telepathically with Valerie. He comes off like a talking animal and less of a ferocious monster. So as a horror movie, this doesn’t really work either.

So it boils down to suspense, figuring out who the werewolf is. Quite frankly, it’s not that hard – Da Queen figured it out pretty damn quickly, even more so than her movie-loving husband. Still, it’s not difficult to spot the wolf, as it were – and that is also a problem.

It’s a movie that needed more guidance from the writer; it’s almost as if three different studio executives with three different ideas for the movie were telling the writer “More romance. No, more horror. No, it’s gotta have suspense.” In trying to be something for everybody it ends up being nothing to anybody.

REASONS TO GO: Some beautiful-looking sequences. Some of the music is impressive.

REASONS TO STAY: Isn’t terrifying enough to be horror; not sentimental enough to be romance; too mundane to be a suspense film.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s violence and sensuality, along with some creature feature-like thrills.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Max Irons is the son of Jeremy Irons.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the wide CGI vistas are best seen at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Inugami