Okja


A girl and her genetically modified giant pig; such a sweet picture!

(2017) Fantasy (Netflix) Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seohyun An, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jungeun Lee, Byun Heebong, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Steven Yeun, Daniel Henshaw, Lily Collins, Devon Bostick, José Carias, Colm Hill, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Nancy Bell, Jaein Kim, Bongryun Lee, Woo Shik Choi, Moon Choi. Directed by Joon-ho Bong

 

Asian culture can be incomprehensible at times for the Western mind. There is an almost cultish worship of things that are ridiculously cute and a sense of humor that is wacky and broad, yet their comic books and animated features can be crazy violent and chock full of deviant sexual behavior. Some things are best left un-analyzed.

In the near future, food shortages have led the multinational Morando Corporation to develop a genetically enhanced pig. The CEO (Swinton), seeking to undo the damage to the corporate image her amoral sister (also Swinton) did, proclaims the pig to be a miracle; it eats and poops less, provides more meat on the hoof (it resembles a hippopotamus with dog eyes) and tastes delicious. She initiates a contest in which piglets are sent to a variety of farms around the world to see which one is most successful at raising one.

The South Korean entry is sent to the farm of Hee Bong (Heebong) whose granddaughter Mija (An) has developed a bond with her pig whom she has named Okja. When television personality Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal) – a sort of Steve Irwin-like character if Steve Irwin had been a corporate shill – visits the remote mountain farm and proclaims Okja the winner. What nobody has told Mija however is that Okja is to be taken away from the farm, sent to New York for a promotional appearance and then butchered for snacks. When she finds this out, she is not at all pleased.

But she gets a break; the quirky Animal Liberation Front, led by the quirky Jay (Dano) – has kidnapped Okja (maybe pig-napped would be a better term) and hopes to use the creature for his own agenda. However operatives for Morando find Okja and bring her back to New York. Can Okja be saved? And even if she is, will she ever be able to live on the farm again once she’s seen New York?

Director Joon-ho Bong, who gave us the wonderful The Host and the not as wonderful but still interesting Snowpiercer, delivers a great-looking film which is infused with a good deal of unexpected satire on the nature of corporate politics, mass media, obsession, animal cruelty and a little bit of American imperialism (at least one line spoke in Korean is deliberately mistranslated in the subtitles, which is about as subversive as you’d think Netflix would ever get). The satire can be a bit broad but it at least has its heart in the right place.

Just as broad is the humor which can take some getting used to by Western and particularly American audiences. There’s an awful lot of jokes about pig shit and if you find that dopey or distasteful, well, you’re not alone. Fortunately nothing is overtly mean or tremendously gross, so most youngsters will be delighted by the mainly CGI Okja who looks startlingly realistic.

This isn’t bad at all, although again there is a bit of a curve of how much you’ll enjoy it depending on how open to different cultures you might be. While much of this is fairly universal, I found some of it to be bewildering. Still, the cinematography is incredible (particularly in the Korean scenes) and even if the usually reliable Gyllenhaal and Swinton overact shamelessly (Esposito as a debonair corporate flunky is an exception) the movie is a solid choice for a night at home with Netflix.

REASONS TO GO: It’s bizarre and weird but in a good way. There is a surprising amount of social satire in the mix.
REASONS TO STAY: The humor is a little broad for my Western tastes and the movie a bit too long for what it is.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, some violence and plenty of rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Animal Liberation Front is an actual organization that is dedicated to freeing animals in captivity and causing economic chaos for corporations profiting from their captivity.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Babe: A Giant Pig in the City
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie

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The Depths


Men love to manspliain even to other men.

(2017) Drama (Valor) Patch Darragh, Michael Rispoli, Charlotte Kirk, Michelle Ventimilla, Gia Crovatin, Anthony LoCascio, Hampton Fluker, Suzette Gunn, Michael Sorvino, Jennifer Bassey, Lucas Salvagno, Jesse R. Tendler, Randy DeOrio, Wally Marzano-Lesnevich, Leon Gonzalez, Alexander C. Mulzac, Tom Coughllin, Chuck Obasi, Peter Barkouras, Lisa LoCascio. Directed by Jamison M. LoCascio

 

Sometimes in order to be a successful writer you have to go somewhere you wouldn’t necessarily or even want to. You have to explore places that might be abhorrent to you, think thoughts that are alien to you and become people you don’t want to be. Sometimes, to write a great screenplay you have to plumb the depths.

Ray (Rispoli) and Mickey (Darragh) are best friends and aspiring screenwriters. They have been working two years on a screenplay about a pair of brothers who become killers; one repelled by it, the other becoming addicted to it. It seems like a swell idea and they take their completed masterpiece to a powerful producer but he passes on it, advising the two aspiring Oscar winners to “write what they know.”

Ray takes this to heart, arranging for him and Mickey to go on a call with a homicide detective. Mickey though thinks that scrapping the script and starting from scratch is the way to go. The two men get into a disagreement about the direction they want their script to go. The bad blood is fueled by Mickey becoming friendly with Chloe (Kirk), a prostitute who Ray had been seeing but whose relationship had been falling apart because of Ray’s jealousy and combative personality.

Mickey gets fired from his job at a hardware store because he is consistently late (having to do very much with his inclination to party) and decides to go full bore writing his own version of the script. He also gets addicted to cocaine, which is not a good idea when you’re unemployed. With Ray working on his own script, Mickey has faith in his writing skills and creative ideas (which he has a notebook to jot them down in) and believes his script will be the better of the two…until he finds that his precious notebook has been stolen. Things are bound to get ugly from there.

This was the first full-length feature by writer-director-producer LoCascio who also helmed this year’s Sunset. This outing is dramatically different in tone and construction; it’s nice to know that LoCascio isn’t a one-trick pony. There is almost a noir-ish feel to the film although in many ways it’s more street-gritty, sort of like what noir would be if it had been started forty years later.

Although the main cast aren’t household names, they are solid actors all with some strong resumes behind them. Darragh (Sully, Boardwalk Empire) does a good job as Mickey who starts off as a sweet screw-up and gradually sinks into an abyss of coke-fueled paranoia. Rispoli (Kick-Ass, The Rum Diary) goes from being the heavy to being sympathetic. He’s the most Noo Yawk of the two which fits the grittiness of the film to a “T.” Kirk (Vice, Oceans 8) is not only breathtakingly beautiful but also has the right amount of world-weariness and vulnerability to make the brassy Chloe more than just a stereotype.

The last third, as Mickey sinks further and further into delusional behavior becomes a bit more cliché than the rest of the film which is understandable but still drags the overall rating down a tad. The film also shows its minuscule budget pretty obviously, with only a handful of sets but it must be said that LoCascio manages to do a lot with a little. Nonetheless this is the kind of first feature that any director would be proud to have, and with those two films under his belt I think we can expect a lot more from him in the future.

REASONS TO GO: The film is marked by good performances and a strong story.
REASONS TO STAY: The story loses a little cohesion towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use, disturbing images, violence, partial nudity and sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won Best Narrative Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival in 2017.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nightcrawler
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
 Ready Player One

Three Identical Strangers


Bros in triplicate.

(2018) Documentary (Neon/CNN) David Kellman, Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland, Ron Guttman, Silvi Alzetta-Reali, Adrian Lichter, Andrew Lovesey, Michael Domnitz, Howard Schneider, Ellen Cervone, Alan Luchs, Hedy Page, Elliott Galland, Alice Shafran, Ilene Shafran, Justine Wise Polier, Mort Shafran, Janet Kellman, Brenda Galland, Lawrence Wright, Paula Bernstein, Elyse Schein, Rachel VanDuzer. Directed by Tim Wardle

The maxim goes “Truth is stranger than fiction” and while that isn’t always the case, it certainly was in this story. Some of you who lived in the New York area around 1980 might remember some of it.

Bobby Shafran was attending a community college for the first time and knew nobody there – but a lot of people seemed to know him. They seemed to have a case of mistaken identity; they identified him as Eddy Galland. With a close friend of Eddy’s, he decided to meet this guy and was shocked to find out that they looked identical and like him, Eddy Galland was adopted. It turned out that they were twins who had been separated at birth.

But the story gets weirder. Their story appears in Newsday, the Long Island paper of record and is seen by David Kellman who is shocked to see two other guys who look exactly like him. It turns out that they were identical triplets, an incredibly rare occurrence to begin with. The three guys all had the same taste in girls, all smoked the same brand of cigarettes, all had the same bright smile.

As it turned out, the three boys had been placed into three completely different environments; one in an upper class home, another in a middle class home, a third in a working class home. One of the fathers was a disciplinarian, a second more laid-back, a third somewhere in between. Despite all the similarities between the boys (which would indicate that in nature versus nurture, the former trumped the latter) they grew up to be different individually speaking. So that nature versus nurture thing (a big theme in the film) may not be quite so settled after all.

The three young men became inseparable, moving in together in New York City and opening up their own restaurant, Triplets, in SoHo. They were regulars on the downtown club scene, and made the talk show rounds on such shows as Phil Donahue and the Today show. At first glance this might be one of those “whatever happened to” kinds of documentaries but then the story turned yet even weirder…and darker.

More than this I will not tell you. This is a story that will seem at first like a trip down memory lane for a feel-good story that grabbed the attention of New Yorkers in the early 80s but it will take you in a completely different and unexpected direction and it works best if you don’t know what comes next. Suffice it to say that you will leave the theater completely blown away.

The actual format of the documentary isn’t particularly different than most; lots of talking heads, lots of archival footage with the occasional re-enactment of scenes to heighten the drama. Nothing new here but the story itself is so compelling, so riveting that you won’t be able to look away let alone notice that the style isn’t particularly innovative. And you probably won’t notice that things slow down a little bit in the final third of the film, although I did. However the movie will come at you like a gut punch and leave you breathless as you leave the theater. It’s only playing in a few cities at the moment following a run on the festival circuit but you should pester your local art house to book this one; it’s easily one of the best documentaries of the year.

REASONS TO GO: The story gets more bizarre as you go along. The movie you think you’re going to see is not the movie you actually see. Nature versus nurture is a large part of the story. This is the kind of movie that will blow you away.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie drags a little bit in the final third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie made its debut at Sundance earlier this year.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews: Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Catfish
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
This is Congo

Sunset (2018)


Patricia (Barbara Bleier) peers out at a bleak future.

(2018) Drama (Random Media) Barbara Bleier, Austin Pendleton, Liam Mitchell, David Johnson, Juri Henley-Cohn, Suzette Gunn, Erin Bruch, Tom Coughlin, Amanda Rae Dodson, Cameron Berner, Faith Bruch, Anthony LoCascio, Michael Pacyna, Erika Rademaker, Susan Feinman. Directed by Jamison M. LoCascio

 

For a very long time the human race has lived with the idea of its own extinction. Whether brought down by the wrath of God or by the hubris of science, there has been a constant Damoclean sword hanging over our heads. For the most part, we try not to think about it, going about our daily lives. How would things change if we knew that end was imminent?

Patricia (Bleier) is given a surprise birthday party by her longtime husband Henry (Mitchell). All of their friends are there, from Henry’s former partner Ayden (Henley-Cohn) who has a successful financial business of his own and Ayden’s girlfriend Breyanna (Gunn). Also in attendance is Henry’s current employee Chris (Johnson), a mentally challenged young man that Patricia and Henry have more or less adopted (he lives in their home), and Patricia’s former colleague Julian (Pendleton). It should be an occasion of joy but hanging over their head was the recent nuclear attack on Los Angeles. They live in New York so they are well aware there’s a huge target painted on their home.

The pall on the occasion is further lengthened by an argument between Henry and Julian regarding the government’s handling of the L.A. situation; Henry believes that retaliation should be part of policy while Julian believes that the government’s conventional weapon attacks have only made matters worse. Patricia, who has mobility issues after an accident permanently damaged her spine and ended her dancing – and dance teaching – careers, decides to call an early night. There is tension between Henry and Julian beyond the argument; it seems that Julian has some strong feelings for Patricia, feelings that Henry is well-aware of.

The next day, the news comes that an attack on New York City is expected and that the city is to be evacuated. That leads to mass panic; looting and worse are the orders of the day. The news provokes different reactions in all of them; some of fear, some of anger, some of confusion but all have decisions to make: where do you go when the world has gone mad?

This is the second feature from LoCascio and there are a lot of good things here. This isn’t a movie that dwells on the geopolitical implications of a nuclear conflict, nor does it get wrapped up in special effects or barrel-chested heroes saving the world from annihilation at the very last possible moment. This is a movie about people, people who are facing the unthinkable and trying to cope. In many ways this is the most real movie about nuclear holocaust that’s ever been made.

But there are flaws here. At times the acting feels stiff; Johnson in particular tries a little too hard and it shows. While Bleier and Mitchell make a believable couple, Bleier doesn’t quite carry off the role the way perhaps it should have been. She needed to be a little more fragile, especially in light of what happens in the last third of the film. Henley-Cohn acquits himself the best here; he has some screen presence and a kind of Mark Harmon-like rugged boyishness that is appealing.

The movie’s main strength – its intelligence – does also lead into something that may prevent audiences from connecting; it’s very talky. Most of the movie is made up of conversations between various characters as they discuss the impending attack and what their plans are. There’s not a lot of action here and I don’t mean in the Arnold Schwarzenegger sense; I mean that the characters are curiously inert. They’re waiting for something to happen rather than making things happen. American audiences tend not to respond to that very well.

The ending though is a hum-dinger. I won’t go much further than that other than to say that you may not find a better one in a movie this year. LoCascio gets points for sticking the landing; that’s not an easy task and a lot of filmmakers these days fail to do so which can take a great movie and turn it into a mediocre one. On the contrary, the last few minutes of the movie are truly magic.

Right now the movie is preparing for a July 3rd release date on most of the major VOD and streaming platforms. Given the interesting premise I imagine that a lot of people looking for something new to watch may end up clicking on it. While I can only muster up a qualified recommendation, the movie does at least not spoil a great premise. If the performances were a little bit better, this might have been one of those sleeper movies that comes up and takes you by surprise, pleasantly so. Still, I can’t honestly say “skip it” either.

REASONS TO GO: Henley-Cohn has a Mark Harmon-like quality. The ending is really terrific.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the performances are stiff or way over-the-top. Some may find it a little too talky.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a brief scene of sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Veteran film lovers will recognize Pendleton as Dr. Larrabee from What’s Up Doc.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miracle Mile
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Cakemaker

Grace Jones: Bloodlight + Bami


Nobody owns the stage like Grace Jones.

(2017) Music Documentary (Kino-Lorber) Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude, Sly Dunbar. Directed by Sophie Fiennes

At 70, Grace Jones remains what she always has been – a fashion innovator, an icon in the LGBTQ community, a fierce personality and an unparalleled performer. Although she did a 1985 documentary on herself, that was much more of a concert film.

Jones throughout her career has been deliberately enigmatic, meticulously maintaining her image which is intimidating and alluring at once, the very pinnacle of androgyny combining performance artist and disco diva. In her heyday she was one of the most successful artists specializing in club music and yet few but her most devoted fans (and most of her fans are, to be fair, devoted) knew much about her background.

You won’t learn much here either. Fiennes follows the legend as she records her most recent reggae-tinged album in her home country of Jamaica where she was born – her family are prominently featured. At home, she affects a Jamaican patois which is largely missing from her speech now although it must be said that she adopts the accent of wherever she is – an upper class British lilt when in London, a slightly French twang in Paris and upstate New York (she grew up from age 13 near Syracuse) when in the States.

All that aside, Jones has had the kind of career that has been influential far beyond her own immediate circle and further beyond the confines of any catwalk, concert hall or movie. She deserves a definitive documentary but let’s face it; we may never get to see one and this one certainly isn’t it. I will grant it’s far more revealing about her background than any other documentary I’ve seen on the lady but she is a difficult nut to crack. She doesn’t tolerate shit at all nor does she have to. She has never been particularly open about her background; while she sometimes complains here about the grind that comes with being a pop diva (she endures a particularly insulting music video because as she reminds us, the fees she gets for it will pay for the entire album she’s recording. While she is clearly adored by her fans (most but not all of whom are gay) and she is more or less accessible to them, she also keeps her distance as well.

It doesn’t help that Fiennes has delivered a fairly disjointed documentary that jumps from place to place, inserts concert footage (which is the best part of the film by the way) and almost never gives any particular insight as to who Grace Jones is. She also fails to identify nearly anyone who appears onscreen, whether backing musicians, dancers, family or friends – hence the somewhat abbreviated cast list.

Yes, I get that she is the very definition of fierce and is not above confrontations when she thinks they are needed; I get that she is spiritually connected to her family and her homeland; I get that she enjoys the larger-than-life limelight and the persona that she’s carefully crafted over the years. But what lies behind the excessive masks and hats, the glitter and the make-up, the long model legs (that are still as long and as beautiful as ever)? We don’t get even a glimpse and that’s what I really wanted to see.

REASONS TO GO: The performance footage is compelling.
REASONS TO STAY: The direction is somewhat haphazard. One gets the sense that the director wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of profanity and smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fiennes is the sister of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/23/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews: Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grace Jones: State of Grace
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Cold War

RBG


The Notorious R.B.G.

(2017) Documentary (CNN Films/Magnolia) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Nina Totenberg, Arthur Miller, Clara Spera, James Ginsburg, Brenda Felsen, Jane Ginsburg, Lisa Frey Inghausen, Martin Ginsburg, Mary Hartnett, Aryeh Neier, Wendy Williams, Sharon Frontiero, Ted Olsen, Amina Sow, Eugene Scalia, Kelly Sullivan, Frank Chi, Helen Alvarez, Lilly Ledbetter. Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West

For the American left, Supreme Court Justice is an icon approaching rock star (or more correctly, rap star) status. In the last few years she has become something of a pop culture touchstone, with her beaded/lace justice robes (in place of ties) and her nickname “The Notorious RBG” taken from the name of a rap star.

The bookish and somewhat reserved Ginsburg is an unlikely pop icon but the truth is she has been a tireless crusader for gender equality her entire career, starting when she attended Harvard Law School in the 1950s as one of just nine women in a class of over 500. Since then she’s argued as a lawyer six cases before the then-all male Supreme Court, winning five of them.

She might never have been a Supreme Court justice (the oldest sitting on the court currently) had it not been for her husband Marty. As gregarious and outgoing as she was quiet, he was the yin to her yang. Although he sadly passed away in 2010, he used his contacts in the Bill Clinton administration to get his wife an interview for the vacant bench position. Clinton later realized in the first few moments of the interview that he knew he had his candidate. Marty and Ruth made a formidable team.

Since then she’s been one of the few liberal voices on a largely conservative court and has mostly penned minority opinions but those opinions have been some of the most thoughtful and well-researched legal papers of the last thirty years. Say what you want to about her politics; Ginsburg has a first class legal mind. The filmmakers do a particularly stellar job in presenting some of these opinions in an easy-to-digest manner, making sense of her legal arguments for laymen.

There is definitely more than a little lionizing going which is understandable – she has long been a hero to feminists and liberals – on here and much of the focus is on her gender equality work. While Ginsburg doesn’t really consider herself a radical feminist, she certainly believes very strongly that women should have the same opportunities as men and should be paid commensurately for their skills.

If I have a complaint about this film it’s that it makes Ginsburg out to be something of a one-trick pony, really glossing over other subjects she has also weighed in on in favor for her stances on women’s issues. The filmmakers do show her to have a bit of an impish sense of humor as she is bemused by her current status. We also get a sense of the closeness of her family who address her fondly as bubbe and take great delight in teasing her about her terrible cooking which she herself admits to. Everyone needs a flaw to be human, right?

While Cohen and West aren’t going to win any awards for outside the box documentary filmmaking with RBG, they did do something even the best documentarians sometimes fail to do; they gave us insight into their subject. That’s not necessarily an easy task especially given that their subject is notoriously reticent and fiercely private. I would have liked to get a bit more about how her progressive viewpoints came to be but essentially they came from her parents so I suppose that there isn’t a lot that Cohen and West could have done to elaborate further.

I suspect most readers who tend towards the right side of the political spectrum will want nothing to do with this movie and I can sympathize with that that. I tend to give the films of Dinesh D’Souza a miss since I disagree with his politics vehemently so I can’t condemn conservative viewers for doing the same thing I myself do. I can only say that one of the more charming sequences portrays Ginsburg’s long-time friendship with the late Antonin Scalia, her very conservative colleague on the bench. Some liberals do grouse about this sequence but I think it illustrates her willingness to understand all sides of an argument. If Ginsburg and Scalia could find a way to mutual respect and admiration (both were opera devotees) perhaps there’s hope for the rest of the country.

REASONS TO GO: The explanations of her legal decisions are superbly handled. While there is some hero worship going on, the subject comes off as very human. Certainly those of a leftist persuasion will enjoy this film.
REASONS TO STAY: There really isn’t a lot of explanation as to how she arrived at her progressive beliefs.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some content discussing controversial subjects.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ginsburg was one of nine women to graduate in the Harvard Law School class of 1956 with over 500 men.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Best of Enemies
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Lean on Pete

Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story


All she wants to do is dance, dance…

(2017) Documentary (Greenmachine) Darlinda Just Darlinda, Minnie Tonka, Gal Friday, Hazel Honeysuckle, Jezebel Express, Murray Hill, Duane Park, Garo Sparo, World Famous Bob, Dirty Martini, Perle Noire, Trigger, Jonny Porkpie, Val Valentine, Little Brooklyn, Shelly Watson, Gigi LaFemme, Anita Cookie, Tatah Dujour, Sailor Sinclaire, Blanche Debris. Directed by James Lester

Burlesque is an art form which is rarely considered as such; some reformed to it as “titty shows” and even less flattering epithets and dismiss it as pandering to the male desire to objectify women. This sort of opinion exists both on the left and the right.

Honestly, the opinion is about as wrong-headed as you can get. Yes, the dancers do remove their clothes and there is a sexual element to what they do but that’s only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We see the girls developing and practicing routines putting in long hours trying to hone their craft. There is often a sly and saucy sense of humor to their sets; one particularly clever dancer did a set in a costume resembling a Dungeons and Dragons monster known as a Beholder.

This documentary focuses on the recent revival of Burlesque and focuses on a diverse selection of dancers in the New York City area and fittingly so as the epicenter of that revival has been New York although there are strong scenes in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and elsewhere as well. That revival has been a hit among hipsters but also in the LGBTQ community to a very large extent. None of the real names of the dancers are there; they all use stage names much like their antecedents did with a somewhat playfully sexual tone.

The film starts with a brief summation of the history of Burlesque and quite frankly, there are documentaries that show off that history much better than this one does but that’s all right; the object here is to concentrate on the modern take on Burlesque rather than looking back at what came before. There are plenty of docs that will give you a more comprehensive look at the somewhat checkered past of Burlesque. For all intents and purposes this movie begins with the 1996 revival that was spearheaded by the Cher/Christine Aguilera film Burlesque, a few clips from which are shown here. It’s hard to believe more than twenty years have passed since that film.

The dancers are preparing for a pair of Burlesque competitions (there’s a competition for everything and documentary filmmakers will always find them) in Las Vegas (the Burlesque Hall of Fame) and New York (the Burlesque Festival) which at least for this veteran documentary viewer gets to be pretty anti-climactic. Yes, these are important events for dancers but the viewer rarely gets invested in them in the same way.

The film shines not so much when it’s looking at the competitive aspects but on the personal ones. The stories of the ladies are fascinating and no two are exactly alike. We also get a lot more in-depth things; explanations as to why they feel empowered by taking off their clothes and what led them to do it in the first place. It is also worthy of note that not all of these women fit the traditional perceptions of beauty; some are heavyset while others have a more alternative aesthetic. Every one of them though are compelling and I daresay I couldn’t think of a reason I wouldn’t want to spend more time with any of them.

The dancing is inventive and the costumes and routines fun. The modern Burlesque dancer is into more than just twirling tassels with their breasts (although there is some of that here) but putting on a coherent show with an actual story of sorts. It is obvious that a lot of hard work and imagination goes into the creation of these routines and the viewer is sure to have a newfound respect for these women when they see the physical hardships as well as the emotional and mental ones that these ladies go through.

The background stories are compelling and the ladies for the most part articulate and thoughtful. I could have done without the two competitions – they seemed an unnecessary distraction. The movie really shines when the dancers themselves take center stage. There are a few male dancers as well (a troupe of men wins one of the competitions) and the movie doesn’t really explore the connection between the LGBTQ community and modern Burlesque but that’s okay. Those looking to see boobs and pubes may end up disappointed; much of the time nipples are covered with pasties and the crotches with panties or décor. The prurient interest factor therefore is a little bit obscured but at the end of the day this is less about the breast than it is about the rest. These are extraordinary women and you won’t be sorry to get to know them.

REASONS TO GO: The interviews with the dancers show surprising depth and self-reflection. The girls particularly Gal Friday and Hazel Honeysuckle are intriguing personalities.
REASONS TO STAY: The documentary’s format is a bit formulaic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some sexual content and a fair amount of nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its debut at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Behind the Burly Q
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
 RBG