Sean K. Cureton

Archive for the ‘Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week’ Category

The End Of The Tour: A Portrait Of The Artist As He May Have Been

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on May 5, 2019 at 11:24 am
The End of the Tour

A24

The End of the Tour (2015)
Directed by James Ponsoldt
VOD Rating: Really Liked It

Any filmmaker, screenwriter, or actor who would attempt the making of a film about the life and works of American novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace is seemingly setting themselves up for near-unavoidable failure. Wallace, who in life was an intimately private, conservative, and intensely troubled talent and creative voice, was also quite self-conscious of how his image was being projected and taken in by an audience of starving consumers eager for a picture and byline to apply to the enigmatic writer of a book as monolithic as Infinite Jest. But in the hands of director James Ponsoldt (The Circle), screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies (Dinner with Friends), and actor Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), The End of the Tour manages said feat not just capably, but with a remarkable respect and sincerity towards the film’s romanticized subject pulled from the pages of life itself. Similar to the way in which James Joyce could be seen as the literary figurehead of the twentieth century, Wallace is the voice largely authorial over the early twenty-first. In Ponsoldt’s drama we have our new portrait of the artist as he may have been, at least according to the transcribed conversation compiled and posthumously published by contemporary writer David Lipsky.

As Wallace, Segel exudes a certain cagey self-defensiveness masquerading as self-confidence, and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as Lipsky proves a more than capable match for Margulies’ adapted meeting of the minds. In the space of what is depicted in Ponsoldt’s film as what was a brief, transitory, and impermanent exchange between two people on opposite ends of a spectrum of professional, personal, and creative fulfillment, Segel and Eisenberg both repel and attract one another, the former engaged in a brief interview with a man similar to himself. Both fast friends and brutal rivals towards one another’s successes in life and work. Wallace and Lipsky as depicted in The End of the Tour are largely consistent with the unedited transcript posthumously published under the title Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace by Lipsky in 2010, only two years after Wallace tragically took his own life in 2008. The entire production is tinged with the remorse and longing for the man whom Ponsoldt, Margulies, Segel, and Eisenberg by extension all feel intellectually responsible for representing accurately.

The End of the Tour is thus backed up by the compassion held in the two actors’ performances, articulated by Ponsodlt’s visually tactful distancing of himself from his subject, and finally through Margulies’ minute attention to relaying only what was presented in Lipsky’s publication of 2010. Instead of exploiting or manipulating the image of the film’s subject in order to stroke the collective ego of the production’s inherent precocity, The End of the Tour is an honest and utterly unglamorous depiction of its author. Wallace is as pissy and defensive about his own well documented personal and professional failings as Lipsky is reedy and preening in wanting to be liked, accepted, and quite probably enveloped by a talent that he sees as being far greater than his own. Neither character is superficially appealing, which is a large part of what makes them compelling and human in the first place. Thanks to Margulies’ impeccably written script, the act undertaken in the becoming of themselves appropriately becomes the film’s true thematic catharsis.

Following the climax of Ponsoldt’s film, there is one final confrontation between the two great minds that find themselves at odds in The End of the Tour. Cornered in the living room of Wallace’s home after returning, beleaguered and angry, from the final leg of the Infinite Jest book tour, Eisenberg’s Lipsky goads Segel’s Wallace into extolling on a pervasive rumor regarding the late great American novelist’s alleged heroin use. After admitting to his struggles with alcoholism, an affliction that Segel as Wallace describes in the film as being an anesthetizing experience from which he derived no joy, the film leaves the viewer on an ambiguous note. Despite revealing his own struggles in finding some other alternatives for how to live, the next day the late author is depicted happily walking his dogs and calling an old car his friend with a grin on his face.  Ponsoldt, Margulies, Segel, and Eisenberg achieve the unthinkable in bringing their enigmatic and intensely private post-modern author to the big screen, and do so without reducing his legacy to romantic caricature, and the film is an entertainment worthy of the infinite jester himself in its anticlimactic themes and realistic tone.

The End of the Tour is currently available to stream on Netflix and is My Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week. This review is an expanded version of an article that was originally published by Audiences Everywhere.

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All About Nina: Comedienne Too

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on April 21, 2019 at 1:12 pm
All About Nina

The Orchard

All About Nina (2018)
Directed by Eva Vives
VOD Rating: Liked It

The Me Too movement has become an unavoidable facet of the popular culture over the course of the past few years, though its impact on the entertainment industry has perhaps remained the most impacted facet of it. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, gross abuses of power have been laid bare for all to see and the old joke of the “casting couch” has lost its power to hide sexual misconduct under the rug with a condescending guffaw. Even the most venerated Hollywood performers have been laid low, and none with a more resounding surprise than stand-up comedian Louis C.K. Granted, word of his specific crimes and misdemeanors had been speculated upon in the past, but when the prime time cable super-producer and arena showman personally came forward to admit to his guilt and remorse there was no denying any outstanding rumors. Stand up comedy, previously a closed-door boys club of indiscriminate debauchery, was going to have to address its own issues with systemic sexism.

Enter All About Nina, the feature length directorial debut from Eva Vives, a film that seeks to set to right some of the carnage left in the wake of C.K. and countless others before him. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as the titular comedienne, All About Nina flirts with several unsavory male characters while retaining its bleary-eyed focus on a beleaguered alcoholic Winstead. Forced to contend with the clumsy passes of a comically doughy Jay Mohr (Saturday Night Live), in addition to an abusive private relationship held behind closed doors, Vives paints the New York comedy scene as a thoroughly dysfunctional affair. True, Nina willfully chooses to spend her evenings with whichever suitable bachelor she finds the most attractive depending on the effects of whatever cocktail she has been imbibing on any given evening, but her coupling never culminates in true joy. And when one particular mate proves to be too dangerous to keep around, the young comedienne makes the decision to migrate to Los Angeles.

At the core of Vives’ new film is an unlikely romance held between Nina and the soft-spoken barfly Rafe (Common), whose uncommon kindness takes Winstead by surprise. Unused to being treated with the kind of mutual respect that is usually reserved only for other men in her line of work, Nina is surprised when a one-night-stand slowly turns into something else. The grip of misogyny in the New York comedy scene in particular provides for an unrelenting aura of personal invasion, especially when Nina reveals the real reason for her mistrust of men and her willingness to endure abusive relationships. By the end of the film, Nina finds herself closer than ever to success, but after unburdening herself of her demons in an especially public way finds that the timber of her creative voice has changed entirely. Forced to sing the same song in a different key, Nina moves beyond prickly evasion to sentimental memoir as a stand-up comedienne.

It’s only been a little over a year since Louis C.K. admitted to his own guilt as a serial abuser of women, and in that time the comedy scene has changed only a very little. While many are open to addressing systemic injustice in what is a very minute facet of the entertainment industry at large, there are just as many outliers who remain un-eager to address the issue personally or professionally. From Chris Hardwick to Kevin Hart, there are many in what is still by-and-large a boys club who continue to enjoy the prestige of their biological sex as a totem of domination over their fellow comics. All About Nina thus serves as an open-ended appeal to keep the conversation open and ongoing. In short, Vives’ film further extends the Me Too movement’s rhetorical motto to include an adjoining Comedienne Too subtitle.

All About Nina is currently available on Netflix and is My Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week. 

 

Zoom: A Fractured Comedy On Self-Identity

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on February 2, 2019 at 11:54 am
Zoom

Screen Media Films

Zoom (2016)
Directed by Pedro Morelli
VOD Rating: Liked It

From up-and-coming director Pedro Morelli and first-time screenwriter Matt Hansen, Zoom is a fascinating fantasy about artistic identity. Tracking the lives of three central protagonists, Morelli miraculously creates a strange, circuitous world wherein everything is connected. Despite seemingly existing within the confines of each other’s imaginative works of fiction, comic book artist Emma Boyle (Alison Pill), movie director Edward Deacon (Gael García Bernal), and aspiring novelist Michelle (Mariana Ximenes) soon bleed into each other’s codependent realities. A self-professed admirer of the work of Charlie Kaufman, Morelli‘s film works on some of the same levels of subjective realism and solipsistic daydream. Like Adaptation or Synecdoche, New York, Zoom artfully depicts the interiority of the artistic mind in pursuit of an individually imagined human ideal.

At the beginning of Zoom, comic book artist Emma Boyle (Alison Pill) is introduced within the stifling environs of her day job as a sex doll manufacturer. Complimented by her earnest, albeit doughy and sophomoric, boyfriend Bob (Tyler Labine), Emma’s life is one of compromised artistic ambition and personal fulfillment. So begins Emma’s story, one that examines objective beauty set against subjective self-worth, as illustrated via several layers of artistic reinvention. After being frustrated by her own apparent beauty as seen by other people, Emma vents all of her anguish into her creation of Edward Deacon (Bernal), an adonis film director made in her own image of what she imagines to be the perfect man. But little does Emma know that within the panels of her latest graphic novel lies another layer of her fabricated self; enter Michelle (Ximenes), who simultaneously serves as the subject of Edward’s directorial vision and the architect of Emma’s own neurosis.

Keeping Morelli‘s aesthetic and narrative debts to the works of Charlie Kaufman in mind, Zoom might be seen as something of an offshoot from the latter filmmaker’s indelible impression on the landscape of independent filmmaking. Morelli obviously loves the ways in which Kaufman is able to examine artistic identity and self-consciousness through various meta-fictional conceits. Borrowing heavily from such a postmodern filmmaking standard, Zoom flirts with a lot of Kaufman-like feats of cinematic surrealism and existential ambiguity. Seen striving towards various romantic ideals of self, perpetuated by such socially propagated traps as body image and sexual anxiety, Morelli‘s characters set about recasting their own lives against that of one another’s throughout what proves to be a complicated and convoluted comedy. Finally, when the worlds of Emma (Pill), Edward (Bernal), and Michelle (Ximenes) collide, and each depiction of their respectively idealized selves is forced to look at one another, Morelli grants the viewer cataclysmic absolution.

Zoom concludes in a state of apparent indecision in keeping with much of the narrative’s incessant grapplings with self-identity dictated by social revisionism and personal insecurity. Emma, Edward, and Michelle can’t quite seem to reach an absolute conception of self on their own independent volitions, though in one final collaborative effort briefly intimated the three fractured selves might yet finally merge into one entirely realized idea of human imperfection. Human perfectionism is made imperfect in practice throughout Zoom, thanks in no small part to Morelli’s indelible comedic taste and compassion for his tumultuously conflicted protagonists. Even when Zoom falls a little short in terms of offering a conclusive ending to its overly complicated and interconnected narrative threads, Morelli and Hansen offer a filmed comedy about artistic representations of self-identity that offers emotional catharsis for its characters and viewers. There is no easy answer to how one goes about achieving satisfaction with one’s self and work in Morelli‘s film, but there is thankfully no shortage of uproariously heartfelt moments of acceptance in the face of human imperfection.

Zoom 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 Discovery: Pondering the Afterlife

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on November 11, 2018 at 11:26 am
The Discovery

Netflix

The Discovery (2017)
Directed by Charlie McDowell
VOD Rating: Really Liked It

Two-time director Charlie McDowell initially turned heads with his 2014 Sundance science-fiction drama The One I Love. That film’s legacy resumes in The Discovery, a Sundance follow-up that continues an ongoing thematic investigation into a philosophy of human intimacy jointly established by McDowell and returning screenwriter Justin Lader. Set in a world where the discovery of life after death has resulted in a worldwide suicide phenomenon, leading man Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) finds himself at the center of unraveling the mysteries of a universe that bears a passing resemblance to our own. Co-starring Robert Redford as Will’s troubled father and leader of a pseudo-cult of followers dedicated to continuing his research into the meaning and reality of a presumed hereafter, The Discovery offers a meditation on a whole swath of profound ideas and heady postulations that circuitously run circles around one another and themselves. And in the process, the faintest sliver of an emotional catharsis is reached at the farthest edges of the human psyche and mortal experience.

Instead of offering an easy answer to what happens after we die, The Discovery is far more concerned with solving the problems presented to us in our immediate waking realities. Winding throughout the film’s plot and script, instead of a morbid fascination with death, is an embrace of life and the people with whom we share it. When Will meets Isla (Rooney Mara) on a ferry at the beginning of the film, The Discovery introduces the idea of a romantic sub-plot that subsists at a subterraneous level of intellectual engagement. The possibility of finding love with another person becomes just as much of hindrance to emotional contentment as it is a spiritual necessity to our survival. Independent torment is thusly lessened by codependent comfort, provided each of us can get out of our own way long enough to meet the other person on a level playing field.

Even as McDowell and Lader refuse to reach any conventional kind of dramatic climax, The Discovery demands the viewer’s full attention and retention. Instead of explicitly laying out the foundations for a grand philosophy on human intimacy, The Discovery introduces a science-fiction premise whose opaque quality gives rise to further questions and a few self-supplied answers. The meaning of life and death are beguiling enough in their own complexity, but in The Discovery, love comes close to providing the footnotes necessary to interpret the former texts. The specifics of the narrative remain frustrating in their complexity, and the rest of the film does little to alleviate said confusion. But provided with the right mind set going in to watch the film for the first time, The Discovery is a movie that works on the same sub-conscious level of narrative logic previously employed by such art house fare as Synecdoche, New York and The Master.

There is plenty to love and hate about The Discovery, which will endear as many viewers to its meandering qualities as it will repulse many more from even entering its labyrinthine environs. McDowell and Lader provoke the viewer with a measured dose of self-importance in The Discovery, which leads to more than a few moments of stilted genre set pieces that ring with a clamorous din of preposterousness. Thankfully, Segel, Redford, and Mara–in addition to a supporting performance of exceptional resonance from Jesse Plemons (Fargo) – provide the human core of sentimental connection to The Discovery that the script alone could never achieve. The question of finding some happily ever after is denied at the end of The Discovery, but the acceptance of that reality results in a far more nuanced idea of a hypothetical heaven. The Discovery never quite comes together to form a cohesive whole fit to please general audiences, but in its unapologetic interrogation of a manufactured set of postulates, it entertains a philosophy worth interrogating beyond an initial viewing.

The Discovery is currently available on Netflix, and is My Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week. This review was originally published by Audiences Everywhere

 

Brad’s Status: On Lives Lived Online

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on September 15, 2018 at 10:15 am
Brad's Status

Amazon Studios/Annapurna Pictures

Brad’s Status (2017)
Directed by Mike White
VOD Rating: Liked It

Written and directed by Mike White – whose past screen credits include his work in writing the screenplay for School of Rock and developing the original HBO drama series Enlightened – Brad’s Status plays out with a lot of the same downtrodden melancholy that has become White‘s thematic staple. Ostensibly aiming to critique and satirize the acceleration of competitive impulses held between old friends as they are hyper-realized on social media, White has reached a level of accessibility that few of his other films have ever achieved. From tackling sticky subjects like hermaphrodites in Freaks and Geeks, to extrapolating on severe alienation and depression in Year of the Dog, White is never one to shy away from topics and people who might repel some viewers, which is exactly why Brad’s Status comes as something of a surprise. Serving as perhaps White‘s most optimistic film yet, Brad’s Status sees Ben Stiller cast in a lead role that feels slightly less misanthropic than viewers have come to expect. Coming off of the despairing turn from Laura Dern in Enlightened, Stiller plays a surrogate White with a striking affability that simultaneously buoys the film’s effect and detracts from the script’s dour defeatism.

Slowly over the course of the past ten years or so, social media hubs like Facebook and Twitter have reoriented the means by which we engage and interact with our peers, friends, and family. Friends now constitute anyone we might have met only briefly in casual and disposable settings, but are now vying for our attention and sympathy online or via text message. But worse than anything else, social media has given rise to a growing sadness, in general perpetuated by the pictures we paint of ourselves online. Brad’s Status gets at a lot of these fairly routine anxieties of the digital age in the late 2010s with some humor and a healthy dose of cynicism. While embarking on a college tour with his young son, Stiller‘s thoughts begin to turn sour when he thinks about the monetary largesse and notorious success of his old college pals, and the lack of forward momentum he sees reflected comparatively in his own life.

Compared to Michael Sheen– who plays a former White House insider and best-selling novelist – Stiller is made to feel less than in Brad’s Status. Worried that he took a wrong turn and might have done better if he had gone into banking in order to procure the funds sorely needed of his philanthropic aspirations, Stiller approaches Facebook like a troublesome spiritual tormentor. Yet his son is miraculously free of any familial anxieties. Determined to study music in college, Austin Abrams (Paper Towns) shines as the post-ironic Millennial to Stiller‘s modern Baby Boomer. Passing through the halls of Harvard University and Tufts with a self-assured swagger and competent demeanor, Stiller is forced to reassess all of his insecurities in order to reach the film’s oddly touching third act.

Regrettably, Brad’s Status is far too often broached with broad brush strokes that lack the kind of definition that made past Mike White films like Year of the Dog unforgettable exercises in heavy-heartedness. Oscillating between mild humor and navel-gazing pretension, Brad’s Status is a road movie about fathers and sons that sporadically lands when it stops taking everything so seriously. But by and large, White has done a laudable job in bringing Brad’s Status to the big screen, and casting Stiller in the lead role helps make the movie more approachable for general audiences. The script’s subject matter has been broached with far more subtlety and nuance elsewhere – see Ingrid Goes West  from the same year for just one recent example – thereby lessening the reward of actually watching the finished production. Yet there is something to be said for any movie that allows Stiller room to breathe uneasy, and as was the case with his starring role in Greenberg from 2010, Brad’s Status benefits from his everyman presence.

Brad’s Status is currently available on Amazon Prime, 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.

Author: The JT LeRoy Story: The Cult of Celebrity

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on August 25, 2018 at 9:24 am
Author: The JT LeRoy Story

Amazon Studios

Author: The JT LeRoy Story (2016)
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig
VOD Rating: Really Liked It

First published in 2000 under the pseudonymn JT LeRoy by author Laura Albert, “Sarah” became a transgressive fiction literary sensation. After holding court with such seminal writers of the sub-genre such as Bruce Benderson and Dennis Cooper, the rising writer of American letters seemed destined for superstardom. Whisked away on the coattails of celebrities impressed with her abilities on the page, Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy become the queer it lit boy of a generation, despite himself being another work of fiction conjured up by Albert. Enter documentary filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig, whose impressive pedigree as a New Journalism auteur on such works as The Devil and Daniel Johnston from 2005, makes him the perfect candidate to tell Albert’s tumultuous tale of creative identities. In Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Feuerzeig presents a convoluted story that’s stranger than fiction, as it occurred according to Albert, about a highly contentious and controversial spin on the intersection of celebrity, art, and genius.

Historically speaking, the entire legacy of JT LeRoy seemed destined to unravel. What began as an exercise in personal therapy undertaken over the phone by Albert with Dr. Terrence Owens had become an unprecedented literary sensation. LeRoy was an “avatar” that allowed Albert to express things that she wasn’t ready to own up to as herself, so instead she cast her androgynous sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to play the part for her in real life. And despite the legally questionable extent to which Albert operated under the public fiction that LeRoy was a person separate from herself, Feuerzeig manages to make her into an unsung hero throughout his film. Yet the entire film is dependent on Albert’s word over anyone else’s.

Citing several formative moments of emotional and physical abuse from her own childhood, Albert indirectly apologizes to anyone she might have hurt. As a director of her story, Feuerzeig leans back from dictating the nature in which Albert justifies and explains her own actions, however misguided and damaging they may be perceived.  In Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Feuerzeig and Albert appear to believe that the work should stand on its own outside of the controversy surrounding the name JT LeRoy, however complicated the surrounding social and cultural context has become in retrospect. For them, the novel Sarah and the book of short stories The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things are permanent reminders of Albert’s prowess as a writer.

Thanks in no small part to Feuerzeig‘s impassive role as a spectator to Albert’s genius, sanity gives way to subtle madness, tragedy, and a very public humiliation, years after the initial controversy. Like his 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston did for its own titular singer-songwriter misfit of the 1980s, Author: The JT LeRoy Story manages to present its own pop cultural phenomenon according to his/her own terms. How much of the story anyone might believe is entirely up to the individual viewer’s discretion, as Laura Albert makes the case for the defense of JT LeRoy under the auspices of her own assumed genius and madness. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction, and nothing is more peculiar than the legacy of JT LeRoy ten years later. Regardless of how you feel coming away from Feuerzeig‘s controversial film, you’ll be hard pressed to forget Albert’s impressively articulated story anytime soon.

Author: The JT LeRoy Story is currently available on Amazon Prime, 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 Lovers: Love the One You’re With

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on July 28, 2018 at 11:02 am
The Lovers

A24

The Lovers (2018)
Directed by Azazel Jacobs
VOD Rating: Liked It

Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, The Lovers is an unconventional romantic comedy about the vicissitudes experienced by a soon-to-be divorced couple.  Starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts as the woebegone Mary and Michael, Jacobs’s latest feature attempts to ground itself against the inherently impetuous tides of a highly unusual romantic tryst. Equally determined to divorce the other and fall back into the arms of their newfound lovers – enter Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters– The Lovers soon sees its titular paramours falling back into each other’s arms in an attempt to find new meaning in a marriage on the brink of collapse. Watching Winger and Letts dance circles around each other in a dizzying display of arrogance, passion, and naïveté provides for a disconcerting bit of emotional choreography to philosophically track. In the film’s best moments Jacobs leans on the performances given by his seasoned lead actors, and with the help of a musical score consisting of classical compositions, The Lovers floats on the air of its own triviality.

By choosing to open his film with Winger and Letts struggling to come to terms with their impending divorce, Jacobs interprets infidelity as an ambiguous satire of romantic intimacy. Neither Mary nor Michael is especially dedicated to their prospective significant others, but over the course of the following ninety-seven minutes they each come to find some kind of peace and resolve in their pending separation. Despite presumably finding greater happiness outside of their marriage, Mary and Michael can’t help but look back and wonder at what used to be. And Jacobs is equally willing to explore the extent to which the human heart is an ever maleable facet of the human condition. Rather than forcing any one of his romantic subjects to become exclusively attached to one partner, The Lovers is more than willing to allow its players to exchange their significant others for another more appealing parter on a whim.

Romantic exclusivity has long been a tantamount goal of the romantic comedy genre. From When Harry Met Sally to Love Actually, the goal of falling in love in the movies is to find one person to share your life and love with forever. In The Lovers, such a sentiment is patently ridiculous and realistically untenable. Times change, and so do people, and with both elemental forces comes the dissolution of relationships euphemistically meant to last for an eternity. If people can’t stay dedicated to one person for their entire lives, then The Lovers is a prime cinematic interpretation of an unpopular reality.

Azazel Jacobs intends to withhold any arbitrary happy ending from occurring over the course of the climax to The Lovers. Far from falling in line with any of their romantic comedy forebears,  Jacobs’ characters are far more idiosyncratically inclined than even the most flighty and feather-headed Meg Ryan character that you could possibly imagine. As such, there is no happy ending to The Lovers, but there is a cathartic conclusion. As we see Winger and Letts stealing another brief moment of intimacy together before the final credits begin to roll, there is some catharsis to be found, no matter how fleeting it may be. Long after Winger and Letts have spent countless minutes past wandering a series of misanthropic dramatic digressions, the soon to be divorced couple is still capable of speaking to and of one another in loving terms, and their divorce stands as a hard earned reality.

The Lovers is currently available on Amazon Prime, 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.

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.

 

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.

 

Goon: Last of the Enforcers: An Inside Hockey Sports Comedy

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on December 16, 2017 at 12:40 pm
Goon: Last of the Enforcers

Entertainment One

Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)
Directed by Jay Baruchel
VOD Rating: Liked It

Goon: Last of the Enforcers sees director, writer, and actor Jay Baruchel applying a second chapter to his 2011 hit sports comedy Goon. Starring Seann William Scott once again as the dimwitted minor league ice hockey enforcer Doug “The Thug” Glatt, Baruchel pulls from a roster of surprisingly well-rounded cast of characters in the making of a second act that sees Doug facing a brutal end to a short career. After sustaining severe injuries during a fight with competing enforcer Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), Doug leaves his position as the newly appointed captain of the Halifax Highlanders at the behest of his pregnant wife Eva (Alison Pill). But despite all of its scurrilous bluster, bloody knuckles, and sophomoric humor, Goon: Last of the Enforcers is a less worthwhile successor to its predecessor. Without the help of co-writer Evan Goldberg, Baruchel and Jesse Chabot have done a minor disservice to what made the original movie an unexpected cult hit and lose sight of their audience in recreating some of the deeper cuts from sports history.

Taking direct inspiration from real life exhibition events, Goon: Last of the Enforcers grapples with the continuing controversy surrounding violence in professional hockey. Specifically, the film examines the very real ramifications of the kind of fisticuffs most frequently engaged in by enforcers hired by minor and senior league teams. Like Doug Smith – whose autobiography and career helped inform the character portrayed in the film by Seann William Scott – enforcers have long been brought into the hockey industry for their ability to take a beating. Oftentimes lacking in any overt grace on the ice, enforcers were expected to beat themselves to death in gladiatorial combat. In Goon, a lot of the physiological damage that goes into the making of an enforcer is glossed over in service of a feel-good sports comedy; in Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the very real toll that fighting for sport takes on Doug “The Thug” Glatt (Scott) shows its true colors.

Director Michael Dowse brought a healthy dose of subtlety to the proceedings behind the scenes in the making of Goon. Beyond the film’s lurid subject, viewers were graced with the rare sports comedy that was about people who just so happened to be involved in athletic competition. In Goon: Last of the Enforcers, Baruchel turns in a directorial debut that teems with untapped potential. Far too often, Baruchel indulges in fanboy adulation, resulting in a movie that feels like it was made for hockey super-fans only. The references that it makes to the contemporary concern over violence in hockey – and the precarious position that certain censorious voices have put the industry under – serves as an inside hockey reference that only the most well-versed sports historians will catch onto without having to seek out a whole host primary sources.

Despite a few new faces that briefly enliven the mood – namely Elisha Cuthbert, Trent Pardy, Jason Jones, and Wyatt Russell – Goon: Last of the Enforcers loses sight of the characters that made the first movie so engaging. Played out like the minor league hockey parable that Baruchel was ironically going for, it’s hard to imagine the film leaving as serious an imprint in the minds of general moviegoers that Goon continues to conjure in its breathless dynamism. Picking up from where the first film left off in 2011, Goon: Last of the Enforcers still revels in the playful camaraderie sustained between returning rival and mentor Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber) and Doug “The Thug” Glatt (Scott), but simultaneously manages to underserve Alison Pill as the once psychologically complicated Eva. Beyond paying minor lip service to the emotional resonance of the many returning characters from Goon, Baruchel is far more concerned with the immediacy of hockey in round two. Serving as another ode to ice hockey, Goon: Last of the Enforcers loses sight of its audience in recreating some of the deeper cuts from sports history.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers is currently available on iTunes, 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.