Buster’s Mal Heart


Fear the beard.

(2016) Drama (Well Go USA) Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Sukha Belle Potter, Toby Huss, Lin Shaye, Mark Kelly, Bruce Bundy, Teresa Yenque, Jared Larson, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Nicholas Pryor, RJ Burns, Gabriel Clark, Lily Gladstone, Chris Toma, Shi Ne Nielson, Ricky Hartung, Tom Cordingley, Dr. Franklin Ruehl, Kate Berlant (voice), Jenny Leonhardt. Directed by Sarah Adina Smith

Florida-film-festival-2017

For most of us, there comes a time in our lives when we strongly suspect that there’s something terribly wrong with the system. I’m not talking about capitalism, communism or anything like that; I mean there’s something terribly wrong with the system of life. There’s a glitch in God’s software, in other words. A patch is sorely needed.

Jonah (Malek) is a concierge at a budget hotel in a Montana resort area. He works the graveyard shift, and although his title is fancy his job is not. He works the front desk and does all sorts of odd jobs around the hotel; throwing linens into an industrial laundry machine, putting dishes through a washer, fishing out slices of pizza from the hotel’s indoor swimming pool and vacuuming carpets endlessly. When he’s not doing these things, he’s bored almost to tears; religious programming plays on the TV set endlessly and on the hotel’s handball court he tosses a rubber ball in a desultory way at the wall.

At home, he plays with his daughter Roxy (Potter) and is affectionate with his wife Marty (Sheil) but is less friendly with her parents, particularly the venomous Pauline (Shaye) who is hypercritical of everything he does. It is, after all, her house they live in, Jonah pulling in a paltry sum from the hotel. He and Marty dream of one day owning their own parcel of land where they can bring up their daughter the way they want to. He has chronic insomnia, unable to sleep during the day.

One night a strange drifter (Qualls) comes into the hotel, looking for a room for the night. He has no identification and refuses to pay with anything but cash. Corporate policy requires ID and a credit card but Jonah lets him stay anyway. The two strike up a conversation and the drifter has some fairly interesting viewpoints. He is apparently a computer software engineer, trying to insure that Y2K won’t bring the world’s economy to a grinding halt. He also talks about an event called The Inversion, when life on Earth will be irrevocably changed and only a leap into the sphincter-like opening of a wormhole will save those who believe in the Inversion from annihilation. In Jonah’s sleep-deprived state, the ramblings of the drifter make a whole lot of sense; there is, after all, a bug in the system.

Buster (Malek) is the name locals use for a bearded mountain man who survives the harsh Montana winters by breaking into expensive vacation homes and living off the food stored therein. He makes incoherent calls to radio talk shows, babbling about an event called The Inversion. He is harmless, really; he meticulously cleans the homes he squats in and leaves them as he found them except for two quirky things; he turns the photographs hanging on the walls of the homes he stays in upside down and once in awhile, he takes a dump in a cooking pot and leaves it on the dining room table. He is clearly not operating with a full deck.

He is essentially harmless but the local Deputy Winston (Huss) has vowed to capture Buster despite the fact that he has never harmed a fly. However, when an elderly couple surprise Buster inside their home, he takes them hostage, treating them politely and even cooking them dinner but then locking them in a closet and refusing to speak to them. Things change rapidly after that.

A man (Malek) floats in a rowboat in the middle of a vast body of water There may or may not be another man with him; we can’t be sure. The man has a long and unkempt beard and hair. He gets his sustenance by fishing and from time to time rages at the heavens. He is tired of this life and of the pain and suffering and only wants to die.

These three – Jonah, Buster and the Man in the Boat – could all be the same man. Then again, they may not be although it is very likely that Jonah and Buster are indeed the same guy. If so, what happened to change Jonah from a rational, loving father and husband to a wild and unstable mountain man?

Second-time director Smith who also wrote the movie has come up with an interesting and somewhat cerebral quasi-science fiction outing that doesn’t always state its case clearly. Much of what is happening onscreen defies explanation and the audience is left to come up with their own answers which is a highly dangerous endeavor these days; most audiences would much rather have the answers handed to them.

Malek, the Emmy-winning star of Mr. Robot, takes on his first feature lead role and shows that he is not only capable of handling it but of shining while doing it. He reminds me strongly of a young John Malkovich both physically and in his performance. While the movie bounces around from time to time, Malek truly holds it together. He is never anything less than mesmerizing.

The movie is long on ideas but a bit short on developing them. There is a kind of vagueness although some things seem pretty clear; it’s just you need to connect the dots somewhat and that can be a bit tiring for those not used to it. The sense of things being not quite right is prevalent throughout the movie; it leads you to mistrust what you’re seeing onscreen and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Smith clearly takes the old saw of “the road not taken” literally to heart and we are left to wonder if the high road was necessarily the right one in this case. The grief of Buster doesn’t necessarily come to the forefront but it’s there and although we may not realize it at the time, we are watching the actions of a man in unimaginable pain. Whether or not that man is still sane – or even still human – is up to you to decide.

REASONS TO GO: You are definitely going to need your brain in full gear for this one. Malek is a natural lead actor.
REASONS TO STAY: This may be a bit too confusing for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There are adult thematic elements, some violence and some foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Malek was already cast while the film was still in development before breaking out in Mr. Robot.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Ghost in the Shell

Advertisements

Doomsdays


A thief, another thief and an Indian chief.

A thief, another thief and an Indian chief.

(2013) Comedy (Self-Released) Justin Rice, Leo Fitzpatrick, Brian Charles Johnson, Laura Campbell, Reagan Leonard, Keith Leonard, Deshja Driggs-Hall, Susan Louise O’Conner, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Tom Cherwin, Jenny Bradley, Mark Bain, Jane Hollinger, Neal Huff, Nate Della Ratta, Michael Power, Jason Downs, Scott Hollinger, Wayne Pyle, Heidi K. Eklund, Mourka, Heather M. Kayal. Directed by Eddie Mullins

Florida Film Festival 2014

It’s no secret that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Resources are growing more and more scarce, a trend which is only going to get worse. The environment is pretty well screwed. Politicians dither and posture and do nothing and the well-to-do are positioning themselves to get their chunk of what remains. No wonder there are those who have given up on society.

Dirty Fred (Rice) and Bruho (Fitzpatrick) are two of those. They aren’t your average dropouts however – think of them as hipster survivalists. Absolute believers in the peak oil theories as espoused by M. King Hubbert, rather than find themselves a rathole to hunker down in, they instead prefer the high life of breaking into expensive vacation homes in the rural Catskills where they enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labors – until the liquor and food run out, the owners come back or they just plain get bored.

Fred fancies himself a bit of an intellectual whereas Bruho has almost a phobia about cars; he likes to wreck them but absolutely refuses to set foot in one, so the two of them wear down a lot of shoe leather. They indulge in random acts of vandalism and occasionally hook up with local girls…well Fred does anyway. Bruho doesn’t seem to have the interest in sex with either gender.

At a house party that they crash (which is, apparently, itself thrown without the knowledge of the residents of the house) they meet up with Jaiden (Johnson), a teenager tired of being picked on and marginalized. He begins as a tag along which Fred finds amusing but Jaiden has his uses – mainly to do the grunt work Fred is too lazy to do himself. However at a more refined house party that the boys crash, Fred hooks up with Reyna (Campbell) who soon discovers that these aren’t local boys and fascinated by their lifestyle, joins in. This Bruho seems extremely set against as adding a girl to the mix is only going to make trouble. However, as Fred is something of a dick, chances are she probably won’t be sticking around long.

This isn’t really a black comedy but more of a really dark grey. Mullins, a former film critic, hits a home run with his first feature. This could have easily descended into a miasma of indie cliche and hipster chic but thanks to a superior script and fine performances the movie is elevated to something different.

Fitzgerald and Rice have some terrific chemistry and play off of each other nicely. Their banter is genuine and organic and you don’t for an instant doubt that these guys haven’t been hanging around each other for ages. They have a comfortable familiarity with each other in that both Fred and Bruho know their roles and are content to keep to them.

Johnson reminded me of a Superbad-era Jonah Hill and that’s not a bad thing at all.  He starts out as the odd man out but by the film’s end fits in nicely with the two main characters. Campbell gives the movie a nice twist, a strong and well-written female character which even in indie films can be kind of rare. She is flawed and unapologetic for those flaws and she holds her own with the male leads.

You might find yourself laughing out loud despite yourself; some of the wit here is droll and sometimes it’s one of those things where you find yourself shaking your head when you realize what you’re laughing at. The antisocial behavior and overall zeitgeist of the movie’s main characters may be off-putting to some and if you are offended by random acts of property destruction and disrespect to the haves of our society, you may want to find some other movie to see. Otherwise, this is one of the more intriguing narrative features at this year’s Florida Film Festival and an indie film to keep an eye out for at your local festival.

REASONS TO GO: Elicits much guilty laughter. Great chemistry between Rice and Fitzpatrick. Refreshingly oddball.

REASONS TO STAY: Some might not appreciate the antisocial behavior.

FAMILY VALUES:  Quite a bit of foul language, some scenes of drunkenness and drug use, some sexuality, depictions of vandalizing and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rice is also frontman for the indie rock band Bishop Allen.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/11/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bellflower

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Before I Disappear