Sean K. Cureton

Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

Outside In: The Human Spirit Confined

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on April 21, 2018 at 11:36 am
Outside In

The Orchard

Outside In (2018)
Directed by Lynn Shelton
VOD Rating: Liked It

Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, Outside In is the latest in a long line of exquisite character studies. Following her work on the star-studded comedy Laggies from 2014, Shelton returns to a more subdued thematic palate that brought her such initial successes as Humpday in 2009 and Your Sister’s Sister in 2011. Co-written with the film’s star and executive producer Jay Duplass, Outside In examines another relationship between two people who are arbitrarily barred from expressing the full range of their feelings for one another due to the pressures of social conventions. As an ex-con in his late 30’s, Duplass‘s Chris pines after Edie Falco‘s Carol, a high school English teacher and part-time counselor who helped secure Chris’ early release from prison. But after suffering a severe injustice for a crime that he didn’t commit, Chris (Duplass) is greeted by a cold world that doesn’t appear especially eager to welcome him back into the fold of mainstream society.

Like any number of previous feature length movies from Lynn Shelton, Outside In presents the adult world as one roiling with an undercurrent of subversive discontentment. With Carol (Falco), viewers find themselves welcomed into a nuclear unit that has long since forgotten how to love and communicate with one another. Estranged from her husband (Charles Leggett) and teenage daughter Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever) due to years of intense work and care for Chris during his incarceration, Carol finds herself struggling to tread water in a sea of shifting obligations and desires. As for Chris (Duplass), life on the outside is just as troubling. Forced to live in an acrimonious household with his brother Ted (Ben Schwartz), the ex-con soon discovers that all of his friends from high school have long since grown up and largely forgotten about him.

By the end of the film’s trim 109-minute runtime, Shelton leaves her characters with the surprising degree of contentment that can only come with a full acceptance of the inevitable shortcomings of life. Determined to take on more counseling assignments as part of a full-time vocation, Carol leaves her husband and Chris in order to find her true self. And after their solitary night together in carnal bliss, Chris is also granted the clarity to put his past behind him and chart a new course towards a sustainable and happy future. Much like the lyrical lilt provided to the film by an original Andrew Bird musical score, Outside In embraces the vagaries of adulthood as a journey whose destination resides within. The outside world of Outside In is peopled by weary travelers, yet its heroes are among the happy few who somehow manage to find their way back home.

Lynn Shelton finds some kind of peace and harmony among the disaffected, which proves to be the case once again with Outside In. And perhaps more so than with any of her previous theatrical efforts, her latest feature length endeavor examines the human soul in confinement, literally and metaphorically. Chris (Duplass) and Carol (Falco) shine as the film’s unconventional couple, as the film weaves its way out of sober depression and into eager ambition. Much like the moody sculptures created and curated in the film proper by Hildy (Dever), there is beauty hiding in between the shadows of Outside In waiting to burst out in a bright ray of light and be seen despite its illusive nature. And once that beauty is found, the rewards are numerous and plentiful, especially after spending so much time in the dark.

Outside In is currently available to rent online, and is My Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week. This review is an abridged version of an article that was originally published by Film Inquiry.

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Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson Being Wes Anderson

In Movie Reviews: 2018 on April 14, 2018 at 11:04 am
Isle of Dogs

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Isle of Dogs
Directed by Wes Anderson
3 out of 4 stars

Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson is typically what you come to expect from any of the American auteur’s greatest works. Starting with Bottle Rocket in 1996, Anderson has steadily built a reputation for himself as one of the most carefully stylized visionaries of the Western world. From Rushmore in 1998 to Moonrise Kingdom in 2012, his films ring with a wicked clarity and sharp wit like few others. Each and every frame reflects a startling symmetry that could only have been composed by Anderson, with each image filled to the brim with an idiosyncratic set design to serve the eccentricities of each film’s characters, and to a much larger extent their creator. More than most filmmakers, it’s impossible to mistake a Wes Anderson film for anyone else’s.

But with Isle of Dogs, Anderson’s latest feature length motion picture and his first return to stop-motion animation since Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009, there is a certain sterility to what are otherwise very familiar proceedings. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson has achieved an unimaginably original world through the painstaking art of stop-motion animation, and given viewers a uniquely Andersonian world to explore and inhabit at their leisure. Megasaki City is beholden to all of the same whimsy that Anderson is well known for, and its Japanese inhabitants serve their preordained function to a tee as the playfully rendered toy puppet companions to the film’s canine heroes. It’s miraculous to watch the film unfold, as Anderson remains as masterful a storyteller as ever, unwinding a peculiar and infectious tale of feudal civil war in his very own Japanese metropolis. Yet the characters never stray very far away from Anderson’s meticulous direction, and as a result Isle of Dogs is sporadically cold and humorless.

Beyond the outcry of cultural appropriation that lends the film a certain sickly hue and tone deaf artifice, Isle of Dogs lacks the same kind of warmth that usually make an Anderson film so likable in the first place. And unlike Fantastic Mr. FoxIsle of Dogs doubles down on stop-motion techniques at the risk of creating characters that feel even less human than Anderson’s prior anthropomorphic fable. True, an all-star cast of lead actors, including the likes of Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Frances McDormand, as well as newcomers Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, and Scarlett Johansson, all serve to lighten the mood with their familiarly Andersonian voices, but only in relation to the very same Anderson films that have come before. Anderson has never been one to shy away from any number of his myriad artistic proclivities before, but with Isle of Dogs it feels as though he has gone all in on every one of his impulses. In short, Isle of Dogs is afflicted with a severely myopic thematic vision.

Moonrise Kingdom, too, was an at times precocious modern fairy tale for adults that served to tow the line with Anderson’s totalitarian imagination. Thankfully, that film ultimately gave way for its performers to breathe some of their own and corresponding eccentricities into the fabric of an Andersonian paradise. Now with Isle of Dogs, it feels as though Anderson has found a way to bypass any collaborative personalities from interfering too directly with his authorial voice. By returning to the realm of stop-motion animation after his previous success with the medium in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson has managed to tell a story that is completely controlled down to each and every minute gesture and facial tick of its actors. Which isn’t to say that Isle of Dogs isn’t a marvel to watch, which it is, nor that it’s message and story aren’t well conveyed, which they are, but merely to suggest that maybe Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson isn’t always a good thing.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond: Being and Nothingness

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on February 17, 2018 at 12:59 pm
Jim & Andy

Netflix

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
Directed by Chris Smith
VOD Rating: Loved It

During the later months of 2017, Hollywood icon Jim Carrey was seen by the public eye in an especially peculiar light. Despite being well known for his zany antics and broad sense of humor, the kinds of things that Carrey began espousing troubled more than a few fans of the Ace Ventura: Pet Detective star. Taking to a red carpet gala at New York Fashion Week, Carrey told an understandably bewildered reporter that the reason for his being there at all was that, “There is no meaning to any of this, so I wanted to find the most meaningless thing that I could come to and join, and here I am.” Predictably, fans around the world took to the Internet to spread disposable hysteria repackaged as content by YouTube personalities and morning show news broadcasters alike. Finally, with the release of the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond on Netflix this past November, it would appear that fans have an answer as to what has been behind Carrey’s philosophical posturing.

Compiled from hours of behind the scenes footage shot during the making of the Miloš Forman film Man on the Moon in 1998, and juxtaposed against a contemporaneous interview recorded with Carrey almost 20 years later, Jim & Andy tells the bizarre story of how Carrey came to play the part of the late Andy Kaufman. And unbeknownst to many, Carrey had intended to release the archival footage featured in Jim & Andy many years prior. At one point in the film, Carrey even goes so far as to suggest that Forman might have considered releasing Man on the Moon interspersed with clips of Carrey engaging with the cast and crew behind the scenes, and thusly blur the line between fact and fiction. During the entirety of the production, Carrey notoriously remained in character as either Kaufman or Tony Clifton – an infamously lecherous lounge singer who is largely understood to be a character initially created and alternately played by Kaufman and his chief creative collaborator, Bob Zmuda. But Carrey’s performance in Man on the Moon went a little deeper than what many might refer to as method acting.

By his own admission, Carrey believes that during the filming of Man on the Moon he channeled the spirit of Kaufman and existentially became one with his comedic forebear. Granted, a lot of Carrey’s reasoning in the present as it is explained to Jim & Andy director Chris Smith is abstract and irrational, requiring a leap of faith grounded in some kind of spiritual belief in a world beyond our own. Yet the tenacity with which Carrey holds fast to this narrative serves as the emotional through-line for the documentary. Watching Carrey embrace Kaufman’s father behind the scenes in 1998 is beguiling, as it immediately becomes clear that both men believed that they were speaking to one another as if the deceased was actually in the room. Likewise, many of the cast and crew on hand in the making of Man on the Moon reflect this same sense of mystic wonder.

Coming off of the career highs of such major motion picture studio comedy blockbusters as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber from 1994, Carrey finally found himself asked to interrogate an aspect of his own celebrity that had remained unexamined on the set of The Truman Show in 1997. Playing the part of a post-modern everyman who steadily becomes aware of the extent to which his life has been predetermined by a host of reality TV producers, The Truman Show greeted general audiences in early 1998 to widespread acclaim for its artful blend of satire and existentialism. As an answer to that exercise in self-reflection, Carrey approached Man on the Moon with an intellectually evolved mindset. The results were astounding when Man on the Moon saw initial theatrical release in December 1999, and with the added insight provided by Jim & Andy the extent to which Carrey expounded upon some of the themes and ideas from The Truman Show through his performance as Kaufman becomes even more obvious. And while it’s easy to dismiss Carrey’s meandering monologue in Jim & Andy as the doddering thoughts of a man on the brink of a psychotic collapse, there are moments in-between the vague statements and beguiling profundities that reveal a man who no longer measures himself against his own success, and has left the mirage of Hollywood far behind him in his voyage into the beyond alongside Andy Kaufman.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is currently available on Netflix, and is My Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week. This review is an abridged version of an article that was originally published by Film Inquiry.

 

The Disaster Artist: Studio Comedy Caricature

In Movie Reviews: 2017 on January 13, 2018 at 11:36 am
The Disaster Artist

A24

The Disaster Artist
Directed by James Franco
2 out of 4 stars

The circumstances that gave birth to the 2003 feature The Room border on the unbelievable. Written and directed by its enigmatic leading man, Tommy Wiseau, the film was independently funded to the tune of $6 million. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Wiseau’s magnum opus doesn’t look like a $6 million motion picture. Far from it, The Room is marked by a peculiar narrative and lacks any cohesive logic. Each successive scene builds upon a singular worldview that feels familiar only if the viewer is aware of Wiseau’s equally peculiar personal history and artistic obsessions.

Enraptured by the storied careers of James Dean and Marlon Brando, Wiseau spends much of his time in The Room tactlessly conjuring his very best impressions of the two formerly cited Hollywood icons. Yet at the same time that Wiseau is trying to ape the traditions of his cinematic forebears, his own ineptitude shines forth more brightly than anything else on screen. The extent to which his own tortured personal history remains shrouded in mystery, evasiveness, and dishonesty only serves to further attract newcomers to his cult-hit directorial debut. And the kind of attention that Wiseau’s character frequently excites in an audience is often tied to the absurdity of his profile. In The Disaster Artist, this pattern of superficially misunderstanding Wiseau’s subtle appeal continues.

On paper, casting James Franco to play the role of Tommy Wiseau – in addition to directing a major motion picture about the cult icon – is commercially appealing. Franco is more handsome than Wiseau, and having Franco featured prominently on the film’s posters and in its trailers positions the movie for a wider appeal than just die hard fans of The Room. And by and large, Franco does a remarkable job of playing the part of Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. Fans of Wiseau and The Room will no doubt be thrilled to follow along as Franco and company recast and reshoot several scenes and sequences from The Room shot-for-shot. But that’s also where the appeal of The Disaster Artist begins and ends.

Based in part on the non-fiction book of the same name co-written by The Room actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell, The Disaster Artist presents itself as the cinematic retelling of the making of one of the best worst movies ever made. But instead of delving into Tommy Wiseau’s convoluted biography, his hostile relationship with women, or his envious attraction to Sestero, The Disaster Artist is content to let its all-star cast of comic actors exchange well-worn lines from The Room with one another verbatim. Instead of exploring the winding narrative that Sestero lays out in his spellbinding memoir, The Disaster Artist plays it safe while opting to whittle the essence of Wiseau down to studio comedy caricature. Unlike The Room, the appeal of The Disaster Artist is easy to explain. Borrowing heavily from the formerly mentioned film’s popular reputation as a “so bad it’s good movie,” The Disaster Artist is made for the kind of person who enjoys watching The Room to laugh at its grotesque star.

This review is an expanded version of an article that was originally published by Audiences Everywhere.