Mandibles (Mandibules)


The No-Pest strip isn’t working.

(2020) Fantasy Comedy (Magnolia) Grégoire Ludig, David Marsais, Adéle Exarchopoulos, India Hair, Roméo Elvis, Coralie Russier, Bruno Lochet, Raphaél Quenard, Gaspard Augé, Thomas Blanchard, Philippe Dusseau, Olivier Blanc, Jean-Paul Solal, Dave Chapman, Marius Colucci, Jézebel Marques, Pablo Beugnet, Marie Narbonne. Directed by Quentin Dupieux

 

Anyone familiar with Dumb and Dumber and other idiot buddy comedies of the 90s knows that watching stupid people do stupid things can be entertaining, if only to make us feel better about ourselves. In a more woke era such as this, there may be those who might have an issue with people who are portrayed as “intellectually challenged” for laughs.

Screw those people. Manu (Ludig) is a bearded kinda-sorta-hippie stoner who is best friends with Jean-Gab (Marsais). They both have IQs somewhat below that of coral. When Manu gets a job to deliver a suitcase that will pay him 500 Euros, he doesn’t think too much that it might be illegal. It doesn’t even bother him that he doesn’t have a car. He just knows that he needs one, so he hotwires a disreputable-looking Mercedes and takes off with Jean-Gab.

While en route through the picturesque byways of the South of France, they hear an odd buzzing sound as well as thumps coming from the trunk. What have they gotten themselves into? Well, it turns out that there’s a fly in the trunk – one the size of an Alsatian.

Normal people would slam the trunk shut and run screaming in the other direction. Not Manu; he hits upon a get-rich-quick idea utilizing the fly as a kind of trained flying monkey to steal valuable items. He and Jean-Gab set out to train their new pet. In an odd case of mistaken identity, a beautiful rich gal (Hair) mistakes Manu for an ex-lover and invites him and Jean-Gab to a mansion for the weekend. The two bumbling lowlifes at least know enough to try and keep their fly secret, but the suspicious resident Agnes (Exarchopoulos) – who shouts everything she says and takes offense to everything due to a brain trauma caused by a skiing accident – knows the two are up to something.

Dupieux has carved a name for himself with absurdist comedies like Rubber and Deerskin. He takes oddball concepts that might be found in a horror spoof – killer tires, killer jackets, giant houseflies – and turns them into something quite different than you might imagine. I can’t say that I was a big fan of Rubber and I haven’t seen Deerskin but this is by all accounts his most accessible film yet, and I did find that it actually made me laugh.

Ludig and Marsais are a sketch comedy duo in France, so it’s no surprise that the chemistry between them is strong. You can believe they are BFFs and the witlessness of their characters makes for some pretty decent comedy (such as when they attempt to cook a simple meal on their own – they are literally a couple of guys who could try to boil water and burn it.

The character of Agnes is a little overdone and is a bit of a waste of the talents of Exarchopoulos, so good in Blue is the Warmest Color. Her constant shrieking gets on the nerves quickly and while she has some funny moments, it just feels like weirdness for its own sake, a problem Dupieux sometimes demonstrates.

Still, while this is certainly an acquired taste, it isn’t necessarily one most people can’t acquire. If you’re going to get into Dupieux, this is the movie that’s going to do it for you unless you have a preference for the truly off-beat. This is as mainstream as the French director has ever gotten; that doesn’t mean he won’t necessarily continue to head in that direction, but this may well be a one-off. I hope not.

REASONS TO SEE: Bizarre but entertaining nonetheless.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretty much an acquired taste.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and strange situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fly puppet is operated by Dave Chapman, who performed similar duties in the Star Wars movies.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews; Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zombeaver
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

Cryptozoo


Giant snakes always make a movie better.

(2021) Animated Feature (Magnolia) Starring the voices of Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Emily Davis, Alex Karpovsky, Zoe Kazan, Louisa Krause, Angeliki Papoulia, Thomas Jay Ryan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie. Directed by Dash Shaw

 

Some readers may be old enough to remember the underground comics of the 1960s and 1970s in which artists such as R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Trina Robbins made comic strips distinctly aimed at adults, laden with sex, drugs and what have you. A kind of counterculture acid trip made printable, these comics enjoyed a brief heyday and their influence can be felt today in online comic strips, from which sprang Dash Shaw (My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea).

His latest has the look and feel of those halcyon works of art with a touch of 70s tarot cards mixed in. The visual style has a reason; the movie is set in an alternate version of the Sixties. Hippies Amber (Krause) and Matthew (Cera) wander into the woods near San Francisco to get stoned and have sex. Naked in the afterglow and not having come down from their high quite yet, they decide to go exploring and run into an impossibly high fence. Matthew immediately wants to see what’s behind it whereas Amber is a bit more cautious. When Matthew spies a castle (“Walt Disney must live there” he exclaims), Amber reluctantly follows. The two then see something even more incredible; a unicorn, but when Matthew stumbles and falls when trying to touch the creature, the animal gets spooked leading to tragedy.

The unicorn is one of hundreds of mythological creatures from all over the world called cryptids who have been gathered in this preserve as a means of protecting them and educating the public about them. They have been gathered in this enclosure, called the Cryptozoo, by Joan (Zabriskie), an elderly wealthy philanthropist. Her right hand is Lauren Gray (Bell), who as an army brat in Okinawa encountered a baku, a Japanese creature resembling a pig/baby elephant hybrid, that eats bad dreams. Since then, she has tracked down legendary creatures and brought them to this place, a kind of Jurassic Park for mythical creatures. She is on the lookout for the baku but then again, so is the U.S. military in the form of Nicholas (Ryan) who seeks to weaponize the cryptids ad put an end to any discussion of any military supremacy other than American. Lauren is aided by Phoebe (Papoulia), a gorgon (don’t call her Medusa) who longs to fit in to society with a normal husband and a normal life.

However, bad things are happening at the Cryptozoo and things have been loosed that shouldn’t ever have been confined. Will Joan’s dream of integrating the cryptids into society be destroyed, or should the cryptids be free to live as they choose – even if they must remain hidden?

There’s a lot going on in this movie – maybe a little too much. There are some of the obvious subtexts – wariness of the military-industrial complex, respect the environment and ecology, zoos and other places where wildlife are kept for public display are inherently bad places, and the like. It’s a lot to pack in to an hour and a half and at times the movie seems lost in its own maze of subtexts.

What works here is the animation; it is inventive (as is the story itself) and most of the time, gorgeous to look at. Clearly a lot of imagination went into this and you see all of it on the screen. While the drawings themselves aren’t super-detailed (this is hand drawn 2D rather than CGI) the viewer is allowed to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. I find that’s the sign of a director who trusts his audience.

My main objection is that the story can be hard to follow at times; there is a fragmentation that occurs because I think Shaw and his wife and creative partner Jane Samborski (who supervised the animation) had so much to say that they could have easily fit it in to several films. I imagine when you are doing something as labor-intensive as an animated feature, there is a tendency to want to fit as much in as possible, but in this case it hurt the movie a little bit.

The film continues to play the Florida Film Festival the rest of the week and Florida residents still can purchase a virtual copy, although they are going fast. If you’re not able to do so, the movie will be released theatrically in August and it might be better seen on the big screen anyway. Animation this gorgeous deserves the best possible presentation.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderfully inventive and gorgeous animation.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story is a bit disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sex, violence and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema (through April 23)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews; Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Last Unicorn
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
After Antarctica

Stray (2020)


Some dogs have the unique ability to look sad and smug at the same time.

(2020) Documentary (Magnolia) Zeytin, Nazar, Kartal, Jamil, Ali, Hajil, Little Ali, Baran, Hakim, Kenan.  Directed by Elizabeth Lo

 

We humans treat our dogs with attitudes that can only be called schizophrenic. On the one hand, we are nuts about our pups; we buy them sweaters to wear in the winter (despite the fact they come factory-equipped with a fur coat), and write endless reams of praise for their loyalty, their friendship, their love. We also use their name as an insult; you’re a “dirty dog” or “treat someone like a dog.” But mostly, we regard the creature as man’s best friend.

Istanbul has a vast number of stray dogs running about. That’s mainly because a fair number of those following the Islamic faith believe that dogs are ritually unpure; certain writings forbid the practice of keeping a dog in the house; some believe that the mere site of a dog during prayer can negate the supplications of the person doing the praying. The Quran also instructs, on the other hand, that all creatures be respected and be treated with dignity – including dogs.

Hong Kong-born filmmaker Elizabeth Lo spent two years in Istanbul following around a trio of strays, with Zeytin – the first one we meet – the one she spent the most time with. Zeytin is a beautiful animal with one of the most expressive canine faces you’re ever likely to see. She has a playful disposition and although she does get in a kerfuffle with another stray during the course of the film, mostly she seems to want to play with other dogs and the humans she meets on the streets of Istanbul.

There are also two other dogs that Lo spends time with; Nazar, the companion of Zeytin, and Kartal, a puppy that joins the group later in the film. That’s because she is dognapped by one of the teen Syrian refugees that Zeytin spends a lot of time hanging out with. Much of the film is spent drawing parallels between the dogs and the refugees who have, ironically, fewer protections under the law than the stray dogs do.

Lo tends to give us a dog’s-eye view of the human culture, setting the camera low at eye level of the various hounds she follows. She also at one point straps a GoPro to Zeytin which proves to be a terrible idea; the loping dog gait bounces and jerks the camera around like there’s an earthquake going on. Even on a laptop the effect is so dizziness-inducing that I had to step away from watching the movie for several minutes while my vertigo subsided and my equilibrium was restored.

There isn’t much dialogue here. We catch snatches of conversations with passersby, as well as from the varied street kids that the dogs are with. There are moments that are moving – the kids receive meals from a state service, feeding the dogs from those meals first. There are also moments that are amusing as the dogs can be plenty playful and as I said, Zeytin has a wonderful range of expressions on her face, from smugness to incredulity to joy to sorrow.

I have to admit that I was terrified watching Zeytin ambling along the streets and highways of the city. Traffic is often whizzing by and I had nightmare visions of the dog dashing into the street and getting pulverized by a truck. Thankfully, nothing like that happens here.

Being something of a dog nut myself, I found spending time with these canines to be most rewarding. Lo obviously has an affinity for dogs; she peppers the film with title cards with quotes regarding the nobility of dogs by ancient philosophers, mostly from Diogenes – the same guy who went looking for an honest man while carrying a lamp, according to legend. Diogenes clearly preferred dogs to humans and I can hardly blame him.

Your attitude towards the film will largely depend on your attitude towards dogs. If you love dogs, you’ll find the film rewarding. If you are ambivalent towards dogs, you likely will find the film more enlightening about the attitudes towards refugees. If you’re not fond of dogs, best you find something else to watch. The movie, though, is entertaining and heartwarming enough that it’s worth seeing by the entire family, although you will rarely find a movie in which dogs take a dump as much as they do in this one.

REASONS TO SEE:  Zeytin has the most amazing expressive face. Makes some fascinating parallels between stray dogs and homeless teens.
REASONS TO AVOID: There’s a nausea-inducing sequence when a GoPro is strapped to Zeytin’s back.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In 1909 the city of Istanbul made a concerted effort to annihilate the stray dog population, but public outcry forced the government to enact laws preventing the euthanasia or holding of strays.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Redbox, Showcase Now, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/8/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 941% positive reviews. Metacritic: 84/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Los Reyes
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Latin Noir

Some Kind of Heaven


Life in The Villages has a surreal quality to it.

(2020) Documentary (Magnolia) Reggie Kincer, Dennis Dean, Gary Schwartz, Lynn Henry, Anne Kincer.  Directed by Lance Oppenheim

 

Residents of Central Florida, as I am, know about The Villages. The world’s largest gated retirement community, it is the subject of endless jokes and speculation. Known for it’s Disney-esque architecture (including faux Mission-style bridges and shopping-centers complete with fully invented historical backstories) – it wouldn’t surprise me if Disney itself took its cues for its own housing development in Celebration from The Villages, which was built about ten years earlier – and solidly Republican politics, not to mention a fleet of personalized golf carts that even residents who don’t play golf get around town in.

There is also a Disney-esque aura of positivism in The Villages; they have their own television news and newspaper, often devoting their energies to more fluffy news stories (residents can always turn to Fox News for their political news, which many do) and more than one resident describes living in The Villages as living in a bubble.

But while local filmmaker Lance Oppenheim’s documentary hints at the environment of the retirement community, he really doesn’t explore it deeply. Instead, he chooses to tell the story of several of its residents (and one conspicuous non-resident) with almost a set of blinders on to the fact that those living there seem to want to live out their golden years in a monocultural fantasyland that has more in common with the Magic Kingdom than with real life, although as it always does, real life intrudes.

We meet Reggie, an 81-year-old man who has been married for 47 years to Anne. She socializes while he keeps to himself. In fact, it soon becomes apparent that despite Reggie’s odd yoga-like exercise regimen, he seems dedicated to losing himself in a recreational drug haze – mainly cannabis, but also harder drugs. At first Anne puts up with her husband’s eccentricities but as they lead to legitimate legal issues, her patience wanes.

Barbara is a Boston native who moved down to Florida to retire with her husband, who then passed away. Forced to return to work because of money issues, she has lost a lot of the joy of life that animated her when she first moved to The Villages, but her first tentative steps into dating a handsome and kind golf cart salesman seem to be restoring her smile.

Finally, there’s Dennis whom Da Queen nicknamed “The Shark.” A ne’er-do-well from California living out of his van, the octogenarian is eager to land a good-looking widow with money as he trolls the churches and bars, but finds better luck at the pools. He is blissfully ignorant of the adage that when God wants to punish you, He gives you what you wish for.

Oppenheim seems to have watched a good deal of the works of documentarian Errol Morris – the style is unmistakable. There are scenes of golf cart precision drill teams, synchronized swimming, and spotless shopping centers that have fake cracks in the fake adobe walls. It all seems so surreal, but then we get the pathos in the three stories that highlight the issues that still occur despite the best efforts to turn the golden years into a kind of paradise of yesteryear. Local critic Roger Moore likens The Villages to The Village in the British science fiction spy drama The Prisoner and that pretty much sums up the attitudes of Central Floridians to the development.

I have to admit that the movie isn’t what I hoped it would be, nor what it could have been. That’s not really the fault of the filmmaker for not making the movie we wanted him to make; as much as I would have appreciated a deep dive into the reality of The Villages, that film remains to be made. This is a movie about four individuals who find their twilight years as challenging as all those that led up to them, which isn’t necessarily the message most of us want to hear.

REASONS TO SEE: A very Errol Morris-esque vibe. Some of the segments are pretty deranged. A different look at the aged.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not so much about The Villages as some of the people who live there.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, drug use and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is one of the Executive Producers; the New York Times was a partner in the making of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews, Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gates of Heaven
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
NEXT:
The Reason I Jump

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan


Having a few with the Lion in winter.

(2020) Music Documentary (Magnolia) Shane MacGowan, Johnny Depp, Bono, Nick Cave, Gerry Adams, Maurice MacGowan, Paddy Hill, Therese MacGowan, Bobby Gillespie, Ann Scanlon, Siobhan MacGowan, Paolo Ikonomi, Terry Edwards, Victoria Mary Clarke. Directed by Julien Temple

 

One has to love the Irish. There is no culture on Earth that is so entwined with music; there is no culture on Earth that loves a good time more. Their history and mythology is beautiful, as is the Emerald Isle itself. They have endured famine, occupation and derision and still remain a culture that matters.

Shane MacGowan, best known for being the leader of the Pogues, embodies all of the often-contradictory aspects of Irishness. He is brilliant, a superb songwriter and a wit. He is also temperamental, self-destructive and occasionally curmudgeonly. This documentary, from noted British music documentarian Julien Temple, is not so much a love letter to his life as it is another opportunity for him to launch both middle fingers at those who have oppressed his race.

Through archival footage, brilliantly bizarre animations and interviews (primarily with his father and sister), we get a sense of his boyhood in Tipperary – his love of family and partying (he was smoking and drinking whiskey before he was double digits in age) where he was radicalized into supporting the Irish Republican Army (Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams reminisces with MacGowan about the good ol’ days) which he still believes in to this day (“I only wish I had the f*****g guts to join up”.

We go through his boyhood in great deal, including his brief commitment to a mental institution by his sister while still a teen. When he was released, he fell into the punk scene and inspired by the Sex Pistols, went on to form his own band – the Nipple Erectors. From there, he went on to form the Pogues, whose full name – Pogue Mahone – is Gaelic for “Kiss my ass” – doesn’t occur until an hour into the film. Temple is clearly trying to relate the rise of MacGowan to the time and place, but Jaysus Murray and Joseph!

MacGowan is in very poor condition; his speech is slurred and at times one gets the sense that the years of drinking, smoking and drugs may have affected him mentally as well. He clearly is uninterested in being interviewed for the movie and despite having Adams and celebrity MacGowan pal Johnny Depp (who was also a producer on the film) to coax him into talking doesn’t really work. It is also telling that none of the Pogues agreed to be interviewed for the film and although the end credits profess a certain amount of love and a desire for forgiveness on MacGowan’s part, his bandmates seem to be less inclined to mend fences.

Still, there is no doubt of MacGowan’s brilliance as a songwriter; one need look no further than the Christmas perennial “A Fairytale of New York” (perhaps his best-known song, sung with the late, great Kirsty MacColl) and “Summer in Siam,” which he sings as a duet with Nick Cave here. There is something not so much admirable about seeing MacGowan as a shell of what he was, but seeing the defiance still very much present. Like a lion still in full voice even though pressed on every side by time and trouble, there is nobility in that roar, even if the teeth are gone.

REASONS TO SEE: There’s a mythic quality that’s pure Irish. The animations are grand – the music even grander.
REASONS TO AVOID: Nearly an hour into the film and they are still covering his school days.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of profanity, underage drinking and smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Temple has previously done documented on British bands of the late 70s like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the UK Subs and Madness.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/13/2020: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews; Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2,000 Days on Earth
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Changin’ Times of Ike White

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band


The name of the band is The Band.

(2019) Music Documentary (Magnolia) Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, John Simon, Peter Gabriel, Jann Wenner, Ronnie Hawkins, John Scheele, Jimmy Vivino, Larry Campbell, George Semkiw. Directed by David Roher

 

There is absolutely no disputing that The Band were one of the most talented and influential ensembles to ever grace a rock and roll stage. Guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer/singer Levon Helm, bassist/singer Rick Danko, pianist/singer Richard Manuel and keyboardist Garth Hudson essentially created the Americana subgenre and made music that was both timeless and timely, both symbolizing an era and transcending it.

They formed as the back-up band to wild blues singer Ronnie Hawkins, known initially as The Hawks. When Bob Dylan absconded with them to back him up during his “Dylan goes electric” tour, they were roundly booed at every appearance. It was only when they went out on their own under their generic “The Band” moniker that they finally began hearing cheers.

Albums like Music From Big Pink and The Band were classics, yielding such songs as “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Cripple Creek,” but the strength of The Band was in their tight arrangements, superior songwriting and raw, emotional vocals particularly from Helm but also from Danko and Manuel. It would all come to an end in 1975 with the release of The Last Waltz¸ the group’s last concert (and the last time all five of them would appear together onstage) and the accompanying documentary by Martin Scorsese.

This new film comes mainly from Robertson’s perspective; he is the only band member interviewed for it (although remarks by Helm and Danko appear from earlier interviews) and it is based on his own memoirs. There is sadly a real lack of contemporary footage of the Band in concert, particularly in their days as backup bands for Hawkins and Dylan so there is a lot of reliance on talking head interviews from fans like Scorsese and Springsteen (whose “Atlantic City” they covered on their post-Robertson album Jericho) as well as with Robertson’s wife Dominique and producer John Simon.

Robertson is an engaging storyteller but we really only get his viewpoint – only he and Hudson remain still alive from the group, and Hudson who was notoriously shy, doesn’t appear other than as a performer in the film. Much is made of the group’s drug abuse, with Manuel, Danko and Helm all flirting with heroin (Robertson and Hudson did not, and Robertson blames the group’s eventual dissolution on drug abuse, citing a harrowing story of Manuel getting into a car wreck with Robertson’s wife aboard). Although the film essentially ends with The Last Waltz, it neglects to mention that the group went on to record several albums and tour sans Robertson afterwards, although Robertson insists that he had always intended that The Last Waltz was meant to signal a temporary hiatus and that they always planned to get back together, shrugging it off with a disarming “but they just forgot, I guess.” By that time, Robertson was continuing to record on his own and was also pursuing an acting career.

He also glosses over the post-breakup feuds and enmity having to do with royalties and songwriting credit, which Helm in particular felt should have belonged to the entire group and not just Robertson since they did most of the arranging. Although there was bad blood, Robertson tells that when Helm was dying in 2012, he flew out to be by his side when Helm was on his deathbed.

That the group was once close and had a rare kind of cohesion can’t be argued; that there was bad blood afterwards – well, even brothers fight; sometimes more bitterly than most. This is a pretty decent tribute to a group that deserves more recognition than they got from the public, having shaped country, rock and roll and folk music with a sound that at the time was revolutionary but toI day is merely influential. I would have preferred that the film be less hagiographic and include more voices than just Robertson’s but that wasn’t to be; Manuel passed away in 1996, Danko in 1998 and Helm as mentioned before in 2012. With three fifths of the group gone, it just makes one wonder how the perspective would have changed had some of them been there to give their point of view.

REASONS TO SEE: Some pretty nifty performance footage. A bittersweet look at one of the most influential groups of all time.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little heavy on the celebrity testimonials.
FAMILY VALUES: This is a fair amount of profanity and some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robertson penned two songs for the 1959 Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks album Mr. Dynamo when Robertson was only 15 years old.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  The Last Waltz
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Beanpole

Mister America


Sometimes you drain the swamp and sometimes the swamp drains you.

(2019) Comedy (Magnolia) Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington, Terri Parks, Curtis Webster, Don Pecchia, Manuel Giusti, Ndidi Amadi, Sarah Sherman, Corey Landis, Joe Estevez, Michael Diliberto, James Mane Jr., Melinda McColgan, Jesse Popp, Mark Proksch, Alessandro Serradimigni, Inger Tudor, Gabriel Patay, Dan Anderson, Eric Notarnicola, Ayaka Ohwaki.  Directed by Eric Notarnicola

 

Tim Heidecker is a very acquired taste. One of the minds behind such cult comedy shows as Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show: Good Job! and On Cinema at the Cinema, this mockumentary grew out of a plotline in the latter show. Heidecker, playing a none-too-idealized version of himself, was a movie reviewer who knew nothing about movies alongside Turkington, playing a film geek version of himself.

Heidecker, a schemer with anger issues, organized an EDM festival in San Bernardino, distributed vape pens at the festival with tragic results. Indicted for mass murder, he gets off on a hung jury – all documented in The Trial mini-series. This movie proceeds from there, after Tim in a rage-filled rant on the final episode of the series, threatened to run for District Attorney of San Bernardino county.

This is the results of that rant, a mockumentary following Heidecker’s campaign. Heidecker schemes with his hapless campaign manager Toni Newman (Parks) – who also happens to be the one juror who refused to convict him of mass murder. We also get commentary from the Judge (Webster) who retired after the debacle that was this trial and occasionally, we see appearances from the incumbent (Pecchia) who is more concerned with his Democratic challenger (Giusti) than on Heidecker, much to Tim’s frustration. We also get man-on-the-street interviews with bewildered residents of San Bernardino.

If you’ve seen any of Heidecker’s web series, or his other movie (Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie) you probably have a good idea of whether the sense of humor is going to appeal to you or not. If you’re new to Heidecker, this is as good a spot to start as any; you can pretty much follow along with the story even if you haven’t seen any of the work that preceded it.

This is definitely aimed at young Millennials, particularly of the male persuasion. Heidecker is thoroughly unpleasant and not too smart; Turkington is shifty and obsessive, the kind of movie buff who gives movie buffs a bad name. Heidecker is channeling Trump in a lot of subtle ways, minus the rabid fanbase. I get the sense, however, that he is out to satirize the system and not specific politicians.

The action is fairly slow moving and some impatience sorts might get squirmy by the middle of the film. There are some wonderful bits in here, although the humor is so desert-dry that you might miss them. This takes deadpan to a whole new level.

I will never criticize anyone for having a different sense of humor than I have; everybody’s sense of humor is a highly personal thing and the things I find funny you might not and vice versa. That’s all good; this is really not my own personal sense of humor and I sense that it will appeal to only a narrow band of viewers. I will say that this is pretty typical of what I’ve seen of Heidecker; if you love Between Two Ferns and Adult Swim, you probably will enjoy this a bit more than I did.

REASONS TO SEE: Bone-dry political satire.
REASONS TO AVOID: A slow-moving acquired taste.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of profanity as well as some brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The trial scenes were partially re-filmed after Heidecker had filmed them for his The Trial mini-series.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/13/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews: Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bob Roberts
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Fantastic Fungi

Ask Dr. Ruth


Dr. Ruth peers out of a train window at her oncoming past.

(2019) Documentary (Magnolia/HuluDr. Ruth Westheimer, Pierre Lohu, Joel Westheimer, Cliff Rubin, John Lollos, Lee Salk, Greg Willenburg, Walter Nothmann, Debbie Nothmann, Leora Einleger, Jonathan Capehart, Dallah “Marga” Miller, Shmil Boruchovitz, Betty Elam Brauner, Mina Westheimer, Maurice Tunick, Michael Leckie, Avi Einleger, Jeffrey Tabak, Susan Brown. Directed by Ryan White

 

For most of us, our first sexual experiences are great mysteries preceded by sheer terror followed by an absolute sense of wonder why on earth we had ever been scared of what was such a natural – and pleasurable – act. Generally before going in and learning by doing, our knowledge of sex is woefully light.

Talking about sex just was not – and to a real extent is not – done. After all, who the hell are you going to ask? You really can’t talk to your parents or adult authority figures about it and your friends and peers know less than you do.

And then in the 80s came along Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a 4’7” dynamo who spoke frankly about masturbation, vaginas, dildos and gay sex in a charming German accent. She promoted good sex in ways that were frank, no-bullshit and direct. Yes, we would all blush like high school freshmen when she spoke of proper stimulation of the clitoris or about how tying up your partner wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. She was one of the first proponents of sexual acceptance; there is no normal sexuality, just whatever turns you on and that’s your business and nobody else’s other than your sex partner.

Suddenly she was a pop culture icon; authoring dozens of books, hosting a crazy popular radio show and a fixture on late night talk shows. She conversed regularly with Johnny, Conan, Letterman and Arsenio. She was everywhere for a certain amount of time, a kind of brilliant grandmotherly sort who talked about the things none of us would ever talk to our grandmothers about. And, despite fame and wealth, she chose to live in the same Washington Square apartment she’d lived in for decades. She lives there still.

This documentary looks at an amazing cultural phenomenon that was and is Dr. Ruth who is still going strong at 90 years old plus. White follows her around in the days leading to her 90th birthday as she goes on a voyage into her past; back to Frankfurt where she was born, and to Switzerland where her mother and grandmother sent her as part of the kindertransport program that got young Jewish children out of Germany as the Nazis rose to power. She was sent by herself to a Swiss orphanage where she shined shoes and did chores; she wasn’t allowed to attend school at the time. Her only learning came from a former boyfriend who would allow her to read his schoolbooks after dark.

Much of her early story is told through animations here where she is portrayed as a sad, melancholy little girl and of course she had good reason to. She voraciously corresponded with her parents until the letters ominously stopped coming. It wasn’t until recently that she discovered the fate of her parents and grandmother, whom she adored. White’s cameras witness her research and it is a very powerful moment indeed. The animations are beautiful but they are a bit tone-deaf when compared to the big picture.

After the war Ruth went to Israel where she was trained as a sniper (!) until an explosion put shrapnel into her legs. She eventually went to get an education in Paris before moving to New York City where she got a doctorate, despite not having completed high school. She married three times and raised kids. She volunteered to do a radio spot about sex therapy which proved to be wildly popular and thus the legend of Dr. Ruth was born.

Throughout the film we journey back with Dr. Ruth to places significant to her in her past, from Switzerland to Israel to New York. We see that even pushing 90 years old, she remains a force of nature – lecturing, writing and teaching a pair of college classes. She continues to preach the gospel of good sex with her charm unabated despite her years.

Although Dr. Ruth prefers to leave politics out of her message, her message is in many ways political in and of itself, advocating tolerance for lifestyles different than your own, equality for women in the bedroom (and by extension, everywhere else) and that what a woman does with her body is her own business and nobody else’s. Her granddaughter tries to get her to admit to being a feminist but when her grandmother does not, is somewhat taken aback and even a little bit hurt by it. The thing of the matter is that while Dr. Ruth doesn’t consider herself a feminist, she has had a massive effect on the feminist movement.

It’s interesting to me that Dr. Ruth is, in many ways, less in touch with her own emotions than she is with everyone else’s. She does play things very close to the vest and while she’s open and candid about many of the events of her life, we get a sense of distance from who she really is as a person. For the most part all we see is the public persona of the famed sex therapist and perhaps that’s enough, although I might have wished for more.

Still in all, this is a well-made, well-researched documentary on a public figure who really hasn’t gotten her due in many ways. Because she talked so candidly about sex, there was a tendency not to take her as seriously as her accomplishments merited – too many jokes on Carson and Letterman perhaps contributed to that. While the overall tone might be a little bit more worshipful than I would have liked, nonetheless this is a fairly thorough examination of one of the most important pop culture figures of the last thirty years. Besides all that, her energy, her pixie-like sense of humor and her sheer good will are very energizing even on a TV or movie screen; this is certainly a worthy tonic for those in need of a pick-me-up.

Orlando readers will have to drive out to the Cinematique in Daytona in order to see this on the big screen; readers in South Florida are more fortunate in that the film is playing in various places around the region including the Miami Dade College Tower Theater and the Living Room Theater at Florida Atlantic University. It is also available at the Movies of Delray Beach and the Movies of Lake Worth while in the Tampa area it can be seen at the Tampa Theater downtown and the Burns Court Cinema in Sarasota. It is also playing in several other theaters around the state – check your local listings. If you don’t live close to any of those theaters, you’ll just have to wait until June 1 when the film will debut on Hulu.

REASONS TO SEE: The energy and humor of Dr. Ruth are infectious. Some of the moments here are devastating.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film is a little bit hagiographic.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes as well as frank sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ruth Westheimer was born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt back in 1928; she started using her middle name Ruth following the war.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/5/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews: Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kinsey
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Clara

Hail, Satan?


Freedom of religion means ALL religions.

(2019) Documentary (Magnolia) Lucien Greaves, Jex Blackmore, Nicholas Crowe, Malcolm Jarry, Michael Wiener, Stu DeHaan, Jason Rapert, Anton LaVey, Megyn Kelly. Directed by Penny Lane

As a general rule, we as a species are pretty dense. You can talk until you’re blue in the face using unassailable logic and still the rest of us don’t get it. It’s not that we’re that dumb, it’s just that we don’t listen very well. Sometimes to get our attention, you have to shake things up somewhat.

In 2013, Malcolm Jarry, Lucien Greaves and a few other interested parties founded The Satanic Temple. Utilizing imagery and iconographies designed to shock people out of apathy, the group initially was formed to combat what the founders saw as increasing Evangelical Christian presence in government. They did it with humor and intelligence, linking Florida governor Rick Scott to legislation that would allow Bible passages to be used in public schools.

Although the spokesman for the Temple was initially an actor playing Greaves, it became evident to Greaves he would have to become the face of the group in order to be more effective. Before long, he was attracting a lot of like-minded people to the group, many of them self-identifying as outsiders and misfits, some of them from the heavy metal community and others from the goth community (such as Jex Blackmore from the latter).

The group came to major notoriety when they opposed monuments at state capitals in Oklahoma and Arkansas by suggesting that since Christian monuments were being erected, they should be allowed to erect an 8-foot tall bronze statue of Baphomet, a version of Satan, on the same ground. Christians of course didn’t take kindly to it but one had to admire their pluck and their logic.

The documentary gives us an intimate look at the Temple and those who are part of it, particularly the articulate and charismatic Greaves but also Blackmore, a fiery and passionate feminist who led the Detroit chapter of the Temple. Acclaimed documentary director Lane pulls no punches in a falling out between Blackmore and the Temple recently over remarks she made supporting violence against the current ruling party.

However, that’s more of a distraction. The ongoing legal fights the Temple have going and their stated goal of religious plurality (which is what the founding fathers envisioned originally) and their absolute opposition to attempts to turn our republic into a theocracy are very much the focus here. Lane allows Greaves, Jarry, Blackmore and others to make the Temple’s case in a calm and sober manner – but not without a sly wink and twinkling eyes. However, it should be noted that many of the Temple members interviewed here use assumed names and hide their identities in other ways so as not to cause their families any unnecessary discomfort. People look upon Satanists as evil and vile; while that perception in the case of the Temple isn’t correct, the stereotype persists.

Incidentally, despite the name the Temple does not literally worship Satan or evil. They see Satan as the ultimate rebel (the famous Byron quote “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” is applicable here) against the status quo. While they borrow the iconography of devil worship as depicted by the “satanic panic” news hysteria of the late 80s and 90s (horned goat masks, robes, nudity and so on), they aren’t about sacrificing babies or animals or anything else. For my part, I wonder if their usage of such symbols isn’t providing free advertising for evangelicals.

One of the things that is telling about the differences between the Satanic Temple and Christianity is that while the basic laws of the Christian church tell you what you shalt not do, the Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple tell you what you should do – treat others with respect and compassion, to use scientific understanding as a foundation for belief, to forgive the mistakes of others because humans are fallible, to not impinge on the freedom of others, to render inviolate the bodies of others, and to inspire nobility of thought and compassion despite the often contradictory nature of the written and spoken word. Fine concepts to live by if you ask me.

=The movie played the recent Florida Film Festival and is likely to show up again at the Enzian or perhaps some other local theater. Don’t mistake this for a film promoting hedonism, excess and corruption; in seeing a movie about a group who might appear shocking and anathema to you, you might just find your own point of view changing for the better.

REASONS TO SEE: Greaves is a charismatic spokesman. A serious subject is tackled with some humor.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some where their misfit badges a bit too stridently.
FAMILY VALUES: The is some profanity and graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shortly after the documentary came out, The Satanic Temple was granted religious exemption status by the IRS.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Red Joan

Love, Gilda


Gilda and Gene as a couple were amazingly cute.

(2018) Documentary (Magnolia) Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lorne Michaels, Michael F. Radner, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, Paul Shaffer, Stephen Schwartz, Alan Zweibel, Robin Zweibel, Rosie Shuster, Cecily Strong, Andrew Alexander, Janis Hirsch, Anne Beatts. Directed by Lisa DaPolito

 

It’s not taking a controversial stance by declaring that Gilda Radner was one of the greatest comedians of her era and one of the greatest ever. Although she passed away at a too-young 43 in 1989, her best work on Saturday Night Live still holds up even now, 40 years later.

It’s hard to believe but for most people under 30 she’s been gone their entire lifetime. Fortunately there’s a documentary that will not only play on the nostalgic chords of baby boomers and others who are middle aged, it may introduce her to a whole new generation that didn’t get to be captivated by her amazing smile, who didn’t get to enjoy her compelling characters or laugh at her gentle humor.

The documentary is mostly told in Radner’s own words as we hear excerpts of her audio recordings that she used while writing her autobiography It’s Always Something which would be published two weeks after her death. She was also an insatiable diarist and we get to hear some of her most intimate thoughts read by modern comedians (and SNL alumni themselves) like Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy and Amy Poehler.

We also get to see plenty of home movies of her youth, backstage footage from her debut performance in Godspell in Toronto as well as from her one-woman Broadway show after her stint on SNL came to an end (but strangely, very little backstage or rehearsal footage from SNL itself). There are also some home movies from her brief but fulfilling marriage to Gene Wilder, some of it taken during cancer treatments during the last years of her life. Even though she remained optimistic despite the advanced stages of her ovarian cancer when it was detected, there came a point when she knew she wasn’t going to survive and she confessed as much to some of her closest friends. She faced the end with grace and humor as you might expect.

Radner was never a radical feminist but she did a lot of trailblazing for women particularly in the field of comedy which was then definitely a boys club (and is still so to a lesser but still profound effect today). Female comics revere her and rightfully so for that reason. She made inroads not by demonstrating but by doing; she wasn’t the sort to get in anyone’s face and scream. She knew there was discrimination against women but in her own non-confrontational way she fought against it. It didn’t hurt that nobody could deny she wasn’t as hysterically funny as her male counterparts, maybe more so in a lot of cases.

Given the amount of personal information and observations that the filmmakers were privy to, some aspects of her life seem to have little flesh on them when displayed here. We get that she spent most of her life looking for true love and being devastated when her latest boyfriend or husband (Wilder was her third marriage) didn’t work out. She wanted to be adored, but was intrinsically shy and preferred privacy even as she loved being in front of people, perhaps less than being with people. At least, that’s what I can glean from what is shown here; I may be way off-base. That’s the problem with documentary movies; the filmmaker has an hour and a half to dig into a life so often we are just left with the highlights and not so much with the blanks being filled in. I really wanted DaPolito to spend more time on her relationship with Wilder but we really didn’t get much more than we could glean from reading contemporary accounts in People magazine.

Radner’s fans will likely love the stroll down memory lane but be disappointed by the insight of which there could have been a lot more. I also found it surprising that the only members of the original cast to appear in the documentary were Newman and Chase; Aykroyd, Curtin and Morris are not to be seen nor is Bill Murray and his brother Brian (both of whom dated Radner at separate times back in the day) from the second season. That’s a shame to me and I don’t know why the missing members declined to appear (if indeed they did) or why DaPolito failed to ask them (if she didn’t).

Still, it is a worthy tribute to one of the most iconic performers of her era, one whose influence still resonates in the comedy business today. Even if it isn’t entirely satisfying from one hoping to gain more insight into what made her tick, I think for most people this is another – or maybe a first – opportunity to love Gilda.

REASONS TO GO: The excerpts from classic SNL sketches still hold up well. The journal entries are both poignant and illuminating.
REASONS TO STAY: The section on her relationship with Gene Wilder could have used some fleshing out.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Radner based her Emily Litella character on her nanny whom she considered her second mom.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/25/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Painless