Sean K. Cureton

Posts Tagged ‘Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week’

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


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.


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. 


The Discovery: Pondering the Afterlife

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


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.


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


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. 

Donald Cried: The Adolescent Sisyphus

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on November 18, 2017 at 12:41 pm
Donald Cried

The Orchard

Donald Cried (2017)
Directed by Kris Avedisian
VOD Rating: Really Liked It

Following its premiere at South by Southwest in 2016, Donald Cried saw theatrical release earlier this year. Serving as the directorial debut of lead actor and screenwriter Kris Avedisian, Donald Cried is an unsettling dark comedy about fraternal friendship. Centering around the story of a frazzled man returning to his childhood home when his grandmother dies only to find himself beset upon by a troubled acquaintance that he soon becomes indebted to, Donald Cried boldly walks the fine line between comedy and tragedy. When Peter LaTang (Jesse Wakeman) returns to his old stomping grounds to take care of his deceased grandmother’s affairs, he soon discovers that he left his wallet at the train station. Lacking any other resources by which he might get around town before heading back to his adult life as a big city banker, he begrudgingly surrenders to the myopic whim of Donald (Avedisian).

Over the course of the film’s trim 85-minute runtime, Donald Cried tactfully manages to navigate the tumultuous waters of trying to rekindle a friendship forged by one’s own former naïve self. And as anyone who has ever considered becoming friends again with someone that they went to high school with but haven’t seen or spoken to in several years can attest to, the scenario proves to offer a more than familiar narrative bolstered by the specificity of Avedisian’s nostalgic nightmare. Sometimes the friends we make when we’re teenagers are nothing more than the most convenient options available when we’re still not cognizant of our respective selves. During a time in which one is expected to grow up and mature, high school camaraderie can quickly fade if it’s built upon little more than pop culture propagated as a shared personality. And in Donald Treebeck, Avedisian has crafted one of the most accurate portrayals of the surreal nature beholden to what is an inherently juvenile intimacy.

Unfortunately for the titular character in Donald Cried, heavy metal quickly comes to stand for a regressive signifier of a relationship built upon subversive enmity. On the flip side, Donald Cried is also a touching tribute to the people who never really left the confines of home after graduating from secondary – or higher – education. For those who never really found a place for themselves in the adult world, childhood becomes an ever-present state of being that sees some lost forever in a Sisyphean prison of codependent sycophancy. Avedisian as Donald thus acts as both a protagonist and an antagonist. His simpering demands upon the attention and affection of Peter (Wakeman) are both a repugnant deterrent and familiar plea to and for the viewer’s sympathies.

It’s easy to come away feeling a little unsure of what to think after watching Donald Cried for the first time. But upon repeated viewings, Avedisian’s first feature really shines a light on one of the more peculiar aspects of childhood and growing up. Who we were in high school continues to affect how we strive to present ourselves to others as an adult, the latter state of being a past that is often a painful reminder of formative experiences. Avedisian has merely pulled back the curtain on a secret shame that many of us know all too well, but are less than willing to welcome back into our lives. By giving that existential foreboding corporeal form, Donald Cried delivers one of the most unforgettable independent features this year, and it would be a real shame if nobody noticed.

Donald Cried is currently available 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.

Palo Alto & the Quiet Rebellion of Youth

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on February 20, 2016 at 1:01 pm
Palo Alto Movie Review

Tribeca Film

Palo Alto (2013)
Directed by Gia Coppola
VOD Rating: Liked It

Based on the collection of short stories by multi-media artist and actor James Franco, Palo Alto is the directorial debut from Gia Coppola, the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and the niece of his daughter Sofia Coppola. Like the book of prose upon which Coppola’s coming of age drama is based, the film details the quiet rebellion of youth perennially in revolt against the landscape of modern day Palo Alto, California, where the American malcontents of a dawning generation are forced to reckon with themselves and one another in the midst of violent passion and apathetic dispassion. The movie stars such young adult thespians as Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, and Nat Wolff in the lead roles, while James Franco and Val Kilmer stand-in as some kind of bizarre mirror to the former protagonists’ self-defeating ambitions, or lack thereof. Throughout Coppola’s film, Roberts, Kilmer, and Wolff are compelling as a collective unit, with the two former innocents continually corrupted and held apart from one another by the corrosive influence of Wolff’s aimless delinquent. The three characters comprise a drama that ends in a whisper as opposed to the bang constantly on the verge of erupting, echoing the lack of power held by those in a state of adolescence, perpetual or temporary.

Of particular interest in the film’s adaptation of a collection of individually disparate narratives from Franco’s original book is the story of Kilmer as Teddy, a sweet aspiring visual artist held back by his own naïveté and indiscretion brought about by an overriding immaturity. In Franco’s hands, Teddy doesn’t feel nearly as compelling as he does when portrayed by Kilmer as seen through the eyes of Coppola, whose collective poetry in motion suggests a certain intelligence absent or so deeply submerged beneath Franco’s aesthetic façade initially to be rendered indistinguishable. Likewise, Roberts as April is a welcome breath of fresh air in much the same way that Kristen Stewart is, stemming not so much from an actor fully in control of her art, but an individual who seamlessly influences the drama around her via an indescribable charm and savant-like appeal. And Wolff as Fred might be the most interesting character of all, as his self-destructive misogyny appears to have been inherited by the examples of masculinity presented to him in the surrounding the culture. By the end of the film, Teddy, April, and Fred may have committed gross acts of personal prejudice against themselves and one another, but their error is one of a surrounding society that apparently breeds upon malice and ill-will.

At one point over the course of the film’s subtly told drama, Coppola interweaves a single shot of Teddy donning a wolf suit obviously reminiscent of the one worn by Maurice Sendak’s juvenile delinquent in the classic children’s storybook Where the Wild Things Are. This moment is small and fleeting, and could be easily glossed over as a meager attempt at suggesting an underlying disquiet within Teddy, but in its brevity of focus upon the viewer’s attention, it becomes ever more memorable, and proves to be an image that is burned into the viewer’s mind long after the film has concluded. Like Sendak’s pre-pubescent rebel, Coppola’s band of teenage misfits want so dearly to cast off the seeming shackles of suburban complacency, but are so dependent upon the very source of their anger that they are forced to concede to the powers that be, however temporarily. Franco’s book tells stories that are objectively unsettling and pruriently entertaining in subject matter, with several sequences focusing upon wildly imaginative acts of sexual violence that come right out of the fevered American nightmare of a good Bret Easton Ellis novel. Coppola, instead of depicting these acts outright, suggests them through the underlying intentions of Wolff’s Fred, whose desire to take what he wants is so often denied form him, resulting in the very near tragedy of personal annihilation in the film’s thrilling final sequence.

What makes Palo Alto such a memorable event in the contemporary cinematic landscape derives from Coppola’s ability to dissect the visual elements of Franco’s prose that stick with the reader, and now the viewer, despite the overriding thematic redundancy of the film’s central narrative. Roberts, Kilmer, and Wolff all play their parts to a tee, and their temporary rebellion of youthful ignorance echoes that of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange before them. In adapting the stories of Franco, Coppola has a found a means by which the former writer’s debut book of prose to the realm of communally shared fantasy, and extracts some of the most universal feelings from said adapted source. Long after having watched Coppola’s film, the scenes, scenarios, and brief glimpses of spiritual epiphany still ring loudly, even as the content of said ephemera proves to be as insubstantial as adolescence likewise becomes in retrospect. Franco might be a distracting influence upon the film’s surrounding intentions, but through Coppola’s intense gaze even some of the film’s more tiresome clichés become imbued with a newfound inspiration that appears entirely novel and revelatory, however briefly.

Palo Alto is currently available through Amazon Prime, and is My VOD Movie Review of the week.