Sean K. Cureton

Archive for April, 2018|Monthly 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.