Cheatin’


Ella in silhouette.

Ella in silhouette.

(2013) Animated Feature (Plymptoons) Directed by Bill Plympton

Florida Film Festival 2014

Love is an odd duck. Love turns to hate in the blink of an eye and so much of it is based on the perception of the other person and our perception of their behavior. That perception can easily be altered or fooled, and in that case, is that love and/or hate truly with the person or with the way we think they are?

Jake is a muscle-bound gas station attendant who has no problem attracting the attention of the ladies. Ella is a beautiful and statuesque single gal who has no problem attracting the attention of the gentlemen. When she is persuaded to go on a bumper car ride that she is at first reluctant to try her hand at, she finds herself in a freak situation in which the gallant Jake comes to her rescue, saving Ella’s life and pissing off his date.

The two fall instantly and madly in love and get married. At first, Jake is crazy about Ella and when he’s not pounding the sheets with her, he’s bringing her flowers and otherwise doting on her. When a jealous admirer doctors up a photo to make it appear that Ella has been cheating on him, the big lug is heartbroken and decides that what’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. He finds a seedy hotel in the center of town and begins to have at it with every woman he can find – and he can find plenty.

At first Ella doesn’t understand the distance that has become her and Jake. When she discovers the truth, her reaction is a bit more extreme than Jake’s – she hires a contract killer to snuff him. Hell hath no fury and all that. However, by chance she stumbles upon a disgraced stage magician’s signature invention – a soul switching machine. In that way, she is able to switch bodies with the ladies who are dallying with her husband before switching back with Jake none the wiser. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s about to get a whole lot less ideal.

Plympton is one of the most marvelous and original animators of our time. He utilizes a good deal of grotesquerie in his style, which began as a print cartoonist for such publications as Playboy and the National Lampoon. While he is primarily known for his shorts, this is actually his sixth feature and his first to utilize Kickstarter as a means of raising funds.

He sets this tale in an indeterminate time but looks to be post-World War Two America, with big cars prowling the endless roadways, rubes wearing fedoras at the county fair and the attitude towards and between the sexes.

What I like most about Plympton is his ability to see the outrageous and the grotesque about everyday things. He has a wicked sense of humor and this new feature was no exception to that style. Plympton also rarely uses dialogue and once again, the dialogue consists of grunts, moans, squeals and sobs. I imagine he would side on the “pictures” side of thing in the Words and Pictures debate but with Bill Plympton, a picture is truly worth a thousand words.

He draws each of the approximately 20,000 animation cells by hand which is a laborious and time-consuming process and while that necessitates a somewhat spare style, he still uses it to great effect. There are even sequences where he gives homage to fine art and utilizes a variety of drawing styles throughout.

The plot is a little thin which even for a movie that barely scrapes over an hour could have used some punching up. Considering this is his first feature in five years, you’d think he’d have had time to flesh out his story some but then he has also been continuing to create his hand-drawn shorts in that time, and let’s face it everything that he cranks out is a gift.

There’s plenty of sex and violence, as well as subversive humor so don’t think about bringing the kiddies to this one – most of it will sail over their heads and some of it is inappropriate for the DisneyToons set. At the moment this is out and about on the Festival circuit and as with most of his features, I’m sure that a home video release is in the cards. While this isn’t his best feature ever, it is still better than most of the stuff cranked out by the big studios and more fun for us big people by half.

REASONS TO GO: Plympton’s trademark humor.  Varies his style enough to be interesting.

REASONS TO STAY: Thin plotline.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some semi-disturbing images and adult themes. Definitely not for the kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Plympton has been nominated for two Oscars for his animated shorts Guard Dog and Your Face.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Persepolis

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: 88 Minutes

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A Beautiful Belly


A Beautiful Belly

Director Andrew Kenneth Gay (right) sets up a shot.

(2011) Dramedy (Candle Fish) Chris Worley, Lauren Brown, Michele Feren, John William Wright, Amy LoCicero, Peyton Lee, Raymond D. Sweet, Randy Molnar, Susan Morgan, Melissa Gruver. Directed by Andrew Kenneth Gay

One of the most important parts of the human experience is procreation. Our species requires it to survive, and in nearly every relationship the purpose of having children is at least an important aspect of why we get together.

Jason Ackhart (Worley) used to be a music teacher at a local elementary school until his position was eliminated. He yearns to be a children’s music performer, and has taken up the persona of Captain Jellyfish to perform at parties and such. He is married to Danny (Brown), a bartender and best friend of Rachel (Feren) who is married to Jason’s brother Will (Wright). Jason got Danny pregnant on their first date after a bible study class (Jason isn’t much of a believer but he had a thing for Danny so he went) and so the two decided to marry.

Will and Rachel have a preschool-age daughter that Jason dotes on but he is a little less sanguine about his own impending fatherhood. He hasn’t touched Danny in months and she is feeling unsexy, unwanted and a little unsure as to whether their marriage is going to survive. She decides to have some sexy pictures taken (or more to the point, Rachel decides for her) and she meets up with Nathan (Lee), a photographer who specializes such things. It becomes obvious that Nathan is attracted to Danny and she, to be honest, is quite taken with him as well.

In the meantime Jason has attracted the attention of Allison (LoCicero), an intern at a local TV station who is interested in building a show around Jason. She is also very attracted to him and is unaware that he is married, because Danny took his ring to get repaired. Even after he gets his ring back, he chooses not to wear it around Allison, possibly because he doesn’t want to lose his opportunity but also possibly because of his doubts around Danny.

Soon, their hidden secrets come out and the marriage reaches a crisis level. With the baby on its way soon, can the two of them resolve their differences? Can Jason get over his fears and doubts and learn to love the belly instead of fear it?

This is a first-time feature for a graduate student and teacher in the University of Central Florida Film Department and Andrew Gay has done a good job in turning a little into a lot. With a budget that wouldn’t cover lattes on a studio set, he puts together a good looking modern romantic drama that covers real world issues that while not necessarily sexy, have a good deal to do with what couples encounter every day.

He is fortunate to have some terrific actors at his disposal. Orlando doesn’t necessarily have a great reputation when it comes to turning out talent despite having a thriving film scene; however, this is the kind of project that can really showcase how talented the actors are around here. Worley, making his screen debut, is fine as the sad-sack Jason, lost in a set of circumstances that have overwhelmed him. Wright makes a fine big brother, wise and a bit of an asshole. In other words, just like most big brothers (I know because I am one).

Lauren Brown has a gorgeous smile; she plays the part of Danny well; I saw Danny as slightly inhibited – a product of her Christianity perhaps – but certainly one who enjoyed sex, and the pain and uncertainty Danny felt at being refused by her husband, that thought that she was not attractive, was palpable so kudos to Brown for that. LoCicero and Lee also did good jobs as the attractive distractions. They brought some humanity to parts that are usually fairly undefined.

As with most first films, there are some issues but few and far between. My biggest one is that the addition of the “other woman” and the “other man” seemed a bit like rom-com contrivances. I would have preferred to see them concentrate on the real issues in the marriage rather than the imagined ones – or else turn those imagined issues into real ones.

This is going to be a hard one to find; after making its debut at the Florida Film Festival. It’s likely to be seen on the film festival circuit over the next year or so and the filmmakers are planning on releasing a DVD, hopefully out in the late summer – check their website for information over the coming weeks.

However, finding it is worth your while, especially for aspiring filmmakers who want to see how to properly make a first film. Not only them, but for new couples thinking about having a baby. This won’t scare you off of the idea, but it can give you an idea of some of the pitfalls. Hormones are a bitch!

REASONS TO GO: Some insight into relationships and dealing with pregnancy. Solid acting and a decent story.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the story points were a bit too contrived. Ending seemed a bit rushed.

FAMILY VALUES: Most of the subject matter revolves around pregnancy and there’s some humor and themes around it. There’s some drinking and a few mildly bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The story was based on an actual incident in feudal Japan, and was previously made into a black and white movie in 1963.

HOME OR THEATER: This is as intimate as it gets; it will work as effectively at home as it does on the film festival circuit. See it either way.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Your Highness

Little Fockers


Little Fockers

This stunt kittie is about to find out what happens to cats who pee on Robert De Niro.

(2010) Comedy (Universal) Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Laura Dern, Harvey Keitel, Kevin Hart, Daisy Tahan, Colin Baiocchi, Tom McCarthy, Olga Fonda. Directed by Paul Weitz

Sometimes when a good movie comes along that makes a good deal of money, the temptation from the studio is to make a sequel which almost inevitably makes good money but is somewhat less high-quality than the first movie. The second movie often does good enough box office to warrant a third and by now the writers are running out of steam and the idea is becoming stale. Some film franchise avoid this trap, but others, particularly comedies, fall hard into it.

Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) has been married eight years now to his sweetheart Pam (Polo) and he’s risen to head of medical surgical nursing at a prestigious Chicago hospital, developing a reputation that Andi Garcia (Alba), the representative of a pharmaceutical company, has taken notice of and so she approaches him to do some pimping for an erectile dysfunction drug that is safe for heart patients. He’s initially reluctant to get involved, particularly with that sort of product which he – ahem – has no need for himself.

Greg’s father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (De Niro), the ex-CIA operative who has made Greg’s life a bit of a living hell, has been having some heart problems (can you guess who’s going to take the dick medicine for heart patients?) which he swears Greg to secrecy about. He and his wife (Danner) are coming to Chicago to visit the Fockers and celebrate the fifth birthday of their twins Beelzebub and Mephistopheles…err, Samantha (Tahan) and Henry (Baiocchi).

Jack is anxious for Greg to become the head of the Byrnes clan since his first choice, Dr. Bob (McCarthy) has cheated on their other daughter (the one whose wedding from the first movie Greg nearly ruined) and the two are in the midst of a divorce. Financial stability is what it’s all about for Jack, providing for a superior education for the kids and a safe home for the family. Since getting the kids into the prestigious Early Humans Academy presided over by the neurotic hippie-sort Prudence (Dern), as well as renovations on the house that thanks to lackadaisical contractor Randy (Keitel) that are behind schedule, are together prohibitively expensive, Greg decides to accept the extra cash working for the pharmaceutical company would provide.

Rather than doing what most normal human beings would do and say “yes, I’m making a little bit of extra cash to help fund the kids’ schooling,” Greg tries to hide it from Papa Byrnes and so a series of misunderstandings ensue that lead Dear old Dunderhead to believe that Greg is actually cheating on Pam with Andi Garcia which should make for an interesting Oceans 11 reunion.

I am of an opinion not shared by many studio executives that making money is not the best reason to make a movie. A movie should have something to say – if nothing else, “let us entertain you” – or have some reason to be made besides adding to the bottom line. I can’t see a single reason to have made this movie.

Certainly it adds nothing to the franchise. It says nothing new about the characters, and in point of fact seems to insist that they haven’t matured much in the intervening years. Oh, Greg’s a dad now but he seems unwilling or unable to act like a mature, responsible adult, preferring to skulk and posture. The movie’s idea of good parenting seems to be giving the kids frequent hugs and letting them do whatever they please pretty much the rest of the time (Samantha for example refuses to talk to her dad for which I can scarcely blame her).

That’s not to say that this movie is completely valueless. Certainly there are a few good laughs. Alba is easy on the eyes and Stiller although looking decidedly older here is still a compelling comedian. How can anyone completely dismiss a movie that contains talent like that in front of the camera for this one? De Niro, Streisand, Hoffman and Stiller along with Owen Wilson as the super rich new age surfer ex-lover of Pam’s are worth seeing in most cases and it is a treat to see Ms. Streisand who rarely makes screen appearances anymore. However, the De Niro-Stiller conflict which is at the heart of the first two movies lacks sizzle here.

I can’t say I hated this movie but I can’t say I loved it either. It’s simply not the kind of movie you’re going to want to see more than once and having seen it once you aren’t going to be awaiting the sequel Our Four Fockers (which might be a title for a prequel) or whatever it may wind up being called. When you leave a franchise film feeling that way, it’s time to pull the plug.

REASONS TO GO: There are laughs here and there. This is an impressive cast who are worth seeing just for the interaction.

REASONS TO STAY: Decidedly unfunny in stretches. Too many situations of people acting more stupid than real people act.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of sexual humor, some naughty words and a bit of drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The studio appealed its “R” rating which was given it due to the repeated use of the f bomb which the studio contended was used for speech therapy purposes; unfortunately, the MPAA turned down the appeal.

HOME OR THEATER: If you’re gonna see it you might as well see it in the comfort of your own home.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Fanboys