“The Greasy Strangler”

LOUISA: 4 STARS MATT: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Some things just can’t be forgotten. Some things just can’t be unseen. Once you’ve watched “The Greasy Strangler,” it will continue to haunt your dreams. This film sets a new bar for deviant, depraved, shocking, bizarro cinema. If there’s ever been a film that I could definitively say is “not for everyone,” this is it. No, really folks: please heed my warnings.

Still reading this review, sicko? If so, this film should be right up your alley. In what I can only describe as an exceptionally filthy mash-up of Jared Hess meets John Waters, “The Greasy Strangler” tells the story of Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and his adult son Brayden (Sky Elobar). The duo lead a ridiculously awful disco walking tour for pathetic tourists in Los Angeles (one tour stop includes a doorway where “Kool from Kool and the Gang” once stood). When the men host the plump and pretty Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) on one of their tours, the two begin to fight for her affections — and the murderous Greasy Strangler alter-ego is unleashed.

This homage to great B-movies explores the mother of all daddy issues in the most reprehensible and repellent ways possible. There’s plenty to make even those with the most sturdy of sensibilities wince (think “Pink Flamingos,” “Mondo Trasho,” and “Multiple Maniacstaken to the extreme). The film is unrated and filled with oddball nudity (fake penises are showcased for a quite hysterical comedic effect), explicit sex, bloody violence, and strange cussing. Oh, and there’s plenty of vomit-inducing grease eating too.

The movie starts off strong and is genuinely quirky and downright hilarious. There’s the deadpan dialogue delivery from the actors, who are purposely giving really, really bad readings (that’s the very core idea behind camp, and this film does it correctly in every way possible). The costumes are simple but played for laughs (matching pink vintage sweaters, tight underwear punctuated with bulging beer bellies, and a revealing disco suit for Big Ronnie that will have you in stitches). The original score is straightforward, uncomplicated and repetitive, but it’s the ideal match for the content (and it’s been stuck in my head for days). The absurdist humor works too: the repetition goes from funny to annoying and back to funny again in both the dialogue and offbeat situations.

Director and co-writer Jim Hosking has created a blazingly original work of art with memorable (dare I say even lovable) characters. How unfortunate it is that the film eventually devolves into a crude, shocking affair with lots of gross-out situations presented simply for the joy of shock schlock. This movie is both great but also awful, a contradiction in its own right.

Much like the characters in the film, my mind was blown by this nearly indescribable movie. You’ve never seen anything like this, guaranteed. “The Greasy Strangler” is instantly quotable (“Hootie! Tootie! Disco! Cutie!“), abnormally gross, completely filthy, unconditionally weird, and impossible to forget. I could see this becoming a true cult classic, and it should have very long legs on the midnight film circuit for years to come.

MATT SAYS:

Make no mistake, “The Greasy Strangler” is gonzo. This type of movie generally appeals to a very small group of people because it’s very, very strange and well outside of most people’s cinematic comfort zone. For those who don’t mind wild, bizarre, and insane films, this will be a welcome relief from mindless, by-the-numbers, big-budget fare.

Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) are father and son who live together and run the family business — a tour of Los Angeles locations that were supposedly important in the disco craze of the 1970s. Whether Big Ronnie is telling the truth about his escapades with the likes of Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, and Earth, Wind and Fire is beside the point; both of them but Big Ronnie in particular are, as the two of them like to say, bulls*** artists. Big Ronnie, in particular, is uniquely talented at getting under the skin of his customers, often ending tours in shouting matches where it becomes clear that his patrons have been added to the top of Big Ronnie’s hit list. When a serial killer named “The Greasy Strangler” begins to kill off Big Ronnie’s customers, Big Brayden quickly turns his suspicion to his father — who has an inexplicable love of grease.

To tell you anything more would be to ruin this movie for you. It has to be seen to believed. “The Greasy Strangler” is best described as “Troll 2” as directed by a young John Waters. Perhaps it’s because a trailer for the revival of “Multiple Maniacs” screened before this movie, but the comparison to Waters is unmistakable. This is bizarro, stomach-churning, cringe-worthy cinema at its best. Other than the very odd and inexplicable ending to the film — which I still don’t fully understand — it’s also a well-constructed film that feels like the fully-realized fever dream of director Jim Hosking and his co-writer, Toby Harvard.

“The Greasy Strangler” is crazy, but it’s also pretty damned funny. There are some things that I saw and heard in the movie that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

“Army of One”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS MATT: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The preposterous true story of Gary Faulkner is brought to the big screen by “Borat” and “Brüno” director Larry Charles in “Army of One,” a loony, wacky and absurd comedy. In 2010, unemployed handyman Faulkner took it upon himself to travel to Pakistan in a rogue attempt to single-handedly capture Osama Bin Laden. The film is based on a GQ Magazine article and it’s so crazy that you’ll need to be reassured that yes, this is a real guy and yes, this really happened!

Time has made audiences forget how insanely funny Nicolas Cage can be, but he is in his kooky element playing Faulkner as a wildly crazed, erratic and eccentric madman with a penchant for nonsensical riffing. Cage has an affable, genuine comedic presence, and farcical banter comes effortless to him. He’s able to chew the scenery with this part, and he does it extremely well –in a way that no one but Cage could do. His brand of wild-eyed madness is amusing in itself, but he completely becomes this character. This movie is worth seeing solely for his performance.

Most of the laughs come early on when Gary is trying to figure out how to actually get himself to Pakistan. He first attempts to reach the country by sailboat from San Diego. His next attempt is to hang glide across the Iranian border. These pursuits obviously don’t end well, but they sure are incredibly funny. Eventually Gary makes it overseas armed only with his new off-the-rack samurai sword (purchased from the Home Shopping Network) and sets out to complete his patriotic mission.

The film starts to fall apart a bit when it reaches its halfway point. Once the main character reaches Pakistan the laughs subside, nothing really happens, and the CIA gets involved. It’s still an enjoyable enough film, but there’s a stark contrast between the film’s first 30 minutes and its last. I enjoyed seeing the frequently clueless Gary unwittingly inserting himself into situations that threaten grave danger, all in the name of patriotism — and I wanted more.

Russell Brand adds a bit of stunt casting as God (he periodically shows up to speak to Gary), but his scenes are sadly devoid of laughs. The idea is funny in itself and probably looked like a winner on paper, but for some reason it just doesn’t translate well to the screen. The script (penned by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman) is engaging and packed with crazed dialogue, but I wanted to see more. Stick around for the end credits where you’ll get to see photos and video interviews with the real-life Gary Faulkner.

“Army of One” is best suited for a rental — I’m shocked it secured a theatrical release, especially with no marketing campaign behind it. Still, it’s one of those odd little movies (and another notch of weirdness in Cage’s belt) that you have to see to believe.

MATT SAYS:

When it comes to roles where you have to question whether the character is just eccentric or actually crazy, Nicolas Cage is the undisputed master. In “Army of One”, Cage is clearly letting his freak flag fly, going all in in his portrayal of real-life weirdo Gary Faulkner.

Faulkner is a particularly strange man. In the late 2000s, Faulkner decided that the most patriotic thing he could do for his country would be to find and capture (but preferably not kill) Osama bin Laden. Deciding that bin Laden was in Pakistan, the 50-year-old Faulkner then went about the difficult work of trying to travel there as an American civilian. His first plan was to sail (!) there, even though he didn’t own a boat or even any nautical skill. When that failed, Faulkner tried hang-gliding into the country from a mountaintop in India. That didn’t work, either. But he did, eventually, get there – and proceeded to freak out both the locals and the local CIA Station Chief in his unfocused hunt for the terrorist.

Director Larry Charles (“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”, “Bruno”) obviously has a great fondness for Faulkner and his well-intentioned mission. While the movie isn’t particularly well-made, as a comedy director, Charles is skilled enough at knowing when to let the script and Cage do the hard work. And it’s in those moments – when Cage is allowed to go all in on the crazy – that the film is at its best. You get the sense that Cage needed very little direction; probably Charles simply yelled “action” and let him do his thing.

“Army of One” is at its best when Faulkner is stateside in Colorado, talking to his girlfriend Marci (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and his friends Roy (Will Sasso) and Pickles (Paul Scheer). Oh, and let’s not forget about Faulkner’s very literal conversations with God (Russell Brand). It’s in those moments that we are able to appreciate both Faulkner’s sincerity and his charisma; even though he’s clearly off-balance, he’s so damned likeable that he’s able to get along pretty well. When the action moves to Pakistan, however, the film loses much of its momentum. Even an enjoyable-but-barely-recognizable Rainn Wilson (playing Agent Simons) can’t get it back.

It’s hard to recommend “Army of One” but it’s enjoyable enough if you’re in the mood for something offbeat.

“Trolls”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS MATT: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Dreamworks Animation certainly knows their audience and caters exclusively to them with “Trolls,” their latest unoriginal but colorful cartoon fiesta. Make no mistake, this is an animated movie that’s targeted specifically to the under 8 set, and there’s not much in the way of rich content for adults. The movie is bright and splashy and filled with a couple of catchy original tunes (as well as lame covers of several 80s pop songs), but for every bright moment there’s also junk like a character who farts out glitter, trolls using their hair as a weapon, and plenty of modern lingo sass talking (“oh snap!,” and “solid burn!“).

Optimistic, peppy and Pepto Bismol-colored troll Poppy (Anna Kendrick) teams up with frowny-faced, grumpy troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) and heads out on an adventure to rescue her troll pals after an evil Bergen (the natural enemy of the troll) kidnaps a significant portion of the village in hopes of feasting on them at a lavish banquet. That’s it; that’s the entire plot of the movie. The paper thin script feels cheap and crummy, and even your youngest toddler can probably guess the outcome of this heroic odd couple tale. There’s not much story at all, just a lot of jolly musical numbers and brief introductions to random rainbow-hued characters.

This movie was obviously edited for those with very, very short attention spans. It jumps around quickly and foolishly, and even the mildly amusing musical numbers feel as if they have been cut short to appeal with those who can’t sit still for more than two minutes at a time. At least most of the kids in my audience seemed engaged with the story, but you really don’t have to pay close attention to follow along.

What shocked me the most is the fact that there’s quite a bit of wasted Hollywood voice talent, with the big personalities of James Corden, Russell Brand and Jeffrey Tambor fading away with very minor background roles. Some of these actors have less than a half page of dialogue in the entire movie. Kendrick and Timberlake do a fine job voicing the leads, but I would’ve loved to see more from Tambor and Corden in particular. The actors playing Bergens (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Zooey Deschanel, Christine Baranski, and John Cleese) have much more screen time, and they all are quite enjoyable.

“Trolls” isn’t particularly well animated, it’s instantly forgettable, and it’s not even very funny, but the film as a whole is entertaining enough. There’s a decent message of loyalty, friendship and finding your own happiness within. It’s harmless and will most likely please the average moviegoing family who will undoubtedly buy a ticket.

Despite all its flaws, the movie made me feel happy and had me cheerfully dancing my way out of the theater: and there’s much to appreciate about that.

MATT SAYS:

I am both surprised and pleased to report that “Trolls” is not terrible. In fact, it’s quite watchable. This puts it ahead of virtually every animated movie of 2016 (except for the wonderful “Kubo and the Two Strings“).

The titular trolls live in a tree. The tree is in the middle of a town populated by Bergens, a miserable race that is convinced that the only way they can be happy is by eating trolls, who are perpetually so. When the trolls leave the tree to escape the perpetual threat of the Bergens, they become hunted and Chef, the meanest of the Bergens, tracks them down and kidnaps several of the trolls. Perpetually peppy troll Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) feels responsible and, together with the practical but lonely Branch (Justin Timberlake), travel to Bergen town to rescue the taken trolls. Along the way, they meet a batch of colorful characters and help spread cheer.

Not everything in “Trolls” works. There are plenty of overused cliches that are the cinematic substitute for creative thought (why does every recent kids movie have to feature at least one moment of a character getting startled and defecating in surprise? Why is that so funny to people?). There are characters whose sole purpose seems to be making comments like “oh, snap!” And some jokes are repeated so often that they wear quickly out their welcome. All of that being said, there’s enough of a story here to sustain momentum as the characters move between musical dance numbers which are, for the most part, entertaining. The animation (which, while not stop motion, looks like it takes its visual cues from the Laika films) is inventive, bright, and textured. And the message — one of acceptance and the importance of finding joy in your life — is certainly one we can all get behind.

If you’re looking for a colorful, joyful and music-filled movie to entertain your kids that will not leave you bored, you could do worse than “Trolls.”

“El Jeremías”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

It’s hard not to be charmed by the intensely likeable Mexican movie “El Jeremías,” a heartwarming and funny film from director Anwar Safa (whose style pays homage to Wes Anderson without ever feeling like a copycat).

The plot focuses on Jeremías, an 8 year old boy who is growing up in Sonora. A naturally inquisitive child, Jeremías is always asking “why?” but receiving less than satisfactory answers from the blockhead adults around him. When he grabs the attention and friendship of an elderly chess loving bookstore owner, Jeremías takes an IQ test and is deemed a genius. Each character faces their own struggles when this information comes to light.

This film places great pride and considerable importance on education, something that you don’t see too often in movies. Though they are poor and living with multi-generations of relatives in one small house, the boy’s parents Onésimo (Paulo Galindo) and Margarita (Karem Momo Ruiz) truly want the best for him. They even save up to buy him a used computer and nurture his quest for knowledge, including letting the child hang out in classes at a local medical school. With his big brain making him even more of an outsider, Jeremías (Martín Castro, a completely organic and natural kid actor) soon goes on a journey of self discovery and puts up roadblocks for himself by way of an existential crisis about religion, career, school, and his future.

At its heart this film is a comedy (its humor is universal), but parts of the story touch on some of the greater societal problems that some residents of Mexico face, including unemployment, poverty and drug cartels. (One of the best bits is when cornered by a group of drug dealing bullies who threaten to “beat the smart” out of him, Jeremías proceeds to inform them that this is “physically impossible”). Jeremías finds inspiration and escape through music (this movie has an incredible soundtrack, including different orchestral arrangements of “People Are Strange” by The Doors) and he carefully places posters on his bedroom wall of idols and notable geniuses like Albert Einstein, Bobby Fischer, Alan Turing and Jim Morrison. It’s no surprise when a famous author and psychologist (Daniel Giménez Cacho) wants to whisk Jeremías off to Mexico City as part of a research study, the boy jumps at the chance.

Once in the big city, Jeremías starts to feel ashamed of his family and embarrassed because most of the other kids in the study have brainy, successful parents (his dad works at a convenience store and his mom confuses things like autism with atheism). His young parents may be poor and not as bright as most, but they still want the best for their kid and do everything they can to encourage and support his gift.

In the end, the film reminds us that there’s no place like home, surrounded by unconditional love and support. It also stresses the importance of finding your own path to happiness and taking the time to let kids be kids. After all, we really shouldn’t be in such a hurry to grow up.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“Arrival”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The peculiar and cerebral “Arrival” is packed with heavy themes for thoughtful people, making it a sure audience-divider between those looking for a high art think piece and those seeking an entertaining sci-fi escape. While its ambitiousness is something to admire, the film is also not as thought-provoking as I’m sure was intended.

The film sets out to shatter the conventions of its genre, although it starts off the same: citizens turn on their televisions to news reports that many mysterious alien spaceships have parked themselves over several of the world’s major countries. University professor and expert linguist Louise (Amy Adams) is plucked out of bed by a military honcho (Forest Whitaker) to help decode the alien language. Joining the team is fellow smarty-pants Ian (Jeremy Renner). These intellectuals are tasked with saving humanity by simply finding the answer to the big question: “why are they here?”

Of course there are several gung-ho Army soldiers who want to join in with Russia and China to respond with military force instead of taking the emotional, talky route. There are plenty of scenes of the scholars of the world coming together to solve the puzzle (while not sharing too much intel). As the world struggles to understand the extraterrestrials as well as each other, the allies begin cutting off all contact one by one, eventually ‘going dark’ and retreating to their own safe spaces. This really speaks to many Americans right now as we are attempting to cope with the realization that Donald Trump will be our country’s next president. The film is profound in its message of isolationism — and its timing.

This is unconventional science fiction that’s a welcome breath of fresh air — sort of. You won’t find a computer animated spectacle loaded with thrilling special effects because this is a film that presents a brainy exploration of big ideas. But while the story kept my mind busy, I had very little emotional connection to the film.

The premise isn’t all that compelling and the obvious conclusion is more than a little unsatisfying. There are too many dreamy sequences that I viewed as a complete flop. While they are calculated to look dark and dreary, I found them to be poorly filmed and out of place. The aliens come in peace, but they want humans to learn their language so we will be able to alter the space-time continuum (or something like that). It’s ironic that the film also plays with time when it’s convenient, and solely as an audience manipulation tool. We also have to suffer through irritating faux-profound voiceover from Adams about the “order of time.” Yawn.

A lot of fuss is being made about “Arrival,” and I get it. But this isn’t exactly my definition of an enjoyable time at the movies.


Matt was unavailable for review.

 

“Doctor Strange”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS MATT: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Superhero origin stories are usually the best of any comic book franchise, and “Doctor Strange” is another enjoyable introduction to a lesser known character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seems like every B-list superhero is getting their own movie, and I was apprehensive that this film was just another attempt by Disney to milk another unloved comic for as much of a cash grab as possible. Thankfully this isn’t the case here. “Doctor Strange” works as a movie because of the flawless special effects and the inspired casting of the accomplished Benedict Cumberbatch as the Strange one.

Cumberbatch demonstrates the ideal mix of charismatic swagger and snark, a real smartass with just enough physical buffness to be believable as a mystical superhero. He’s not a muscle-laden knucklehead yet he’s wholly plausible and seems at ease sliding into the floating cape of this strange superhero. I know nothing about the comic book character of Doctor Strange but from the parts of his story that are presented on screen, I think Cumberbatch is the perfect match, and I have high hopes for future films with him in the role.

The film suffers from its paper thin storyline, so don’t go expecting anything thought-provoking or engaging plot-wise. The simple story tells the legend of doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), a surgeon who is no longer able to perform his job after a debilitating accident. Soon he crosses paths with a powerful sorcerer and begins to study the manipulation of the mystical world from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). That’s the entire plot. Luckily there are some sturdy supporting performances from Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor (I love the trend of casting accomplished actors in popcorn movies, it gives the film instant credibility and elevates it from being just another notch on the forgettable trash heap).

While there’s not much going on plot-wise, this film’s overwhelming strength lies solely in its impressive visual effects. Calling the CGI effects flawless and magnificent would be a gross understatement. This movie is brimming with visual eye candy (at times it teeters at the border of being a little too overwhelming) that’s spectacular and simply a ton of fun to watch. The film is dizzying, hallucinatory, offbeat and refreshing. It’s one of those rare movies that I wish I had seen in 3D.

“Doctor Strange” may be all about the visuals, but I do hope to see more of his story in future films. Here’s hoping this Marvel character will get a meatier plot the next time around.

MATT SAYS:

Although it’s a welcome respite from the typical Marvel formula film, “Doctor Strange” isn’t quite different enough to be compelling.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant surgeon who is also highly egotistical and self-centered. After an auto accident (don’t look at your phones while you’re driving, people!) leaves him injured and his once-reliable hands unsteady, Stephen begins searching far and wide for a cure. His quest takes him to Nepal, where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who practices an ancient art that draws energy from the multiverse to conjure weapons and shields, and to travel between dimensions. Stephen, a man of science, is initially skeptical of these powers that rely so heavily on the unseen, but quickly becomes a believer and then proficient in the use of these skills.

What’s refreshing about “Doctor Strange” is the character himself. Strange is a highly practical and pragmatic man who believes in evidence and facts, but whose worldview is challenged by The Ancient One, who understands Strange better than he understands himself. To Strange, if it’s not perceptible by man or measurable by machine, it’s not real. But this also doesn’t make a ton of sense when you think about it: Strange clearly lives in a world where the Avengers are real (we see their tower in New York in several shots). If his reality includes a man who turns into a giant green monster when he gets angry and Norse gods from alternate universe, one of whom has attacked New York with alien monsters, why would it be so difficult to accept the multiverse or alternate dimensions? But I digress.

While it’s refreshing to see a Marvel movie that doesn’t rely on a hero with a genetic mutation, a super suit, or biological engineering to beat the bad guy, the differences in “Doctor Strange” are also the source of its key weakness. When the characters travel through alternate “Inception”-like dimensions where they are able to warp objects and fold buildings on top of one another, create chasms, and otherwise defy the laws of physics, the movie loses momentum. When reality isn’t real and there is no sense of space or place, a chase has no meaning. What are the characters running to? What are they running from? While I liked the idea of Strange and the others conjuring weapons or shields to fight the others, the mirror dimension stuff (which seemed like an excuse for the special effects people to show off their skills) really lost me.

Still, the character of Doctor Strange is intriguing enough to warrant further attention and the movie is good enough to mildly recommend.

“Blood Father”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Blood Father” is a conventional, mostly unoriginal thriller but it still is a bit of good, campy fun. This riff on the popular “Taken” movie formula centers around Link (Mel Gibson), a gruff ex-con who now runs a tattoo business out of his desert trailer. When his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) accidentally kills her criminal boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she calls her dad for help. The two go on the run when a Mexican cartel crime family begins hunting them down and looking for answers.

There’s nothing new on display here, but there’s plenty of bloody good action and violence. The film is capably directed by Jean-François Richet, a man who is talented at visualizing tense situations (“Assault on Precinct 13“). Gibson is campy gold as a tough protector who laments violating his parole and, in between murdering the bad guys, takes a minute to call his AA sponsor (the underused William H. Macy) so he can stay on track and not hit the whiskey.

Gibson is obviously having a blast chewing the scenery, and his enjoyment of the role is a bit contagious. Too bad Moriarity is totally unbelievable as his druggie daughter; she’s far too poised and polished to be credible.

“Blood Father” would make a bloody good rental if you want a satisfying action thriller. It won’t change your life, but it’s also not a waste of 90 minutes.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“Unleashed”

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LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The delightfully offbeat premise of “Unleashed” is without question the film’s greatest strength. This ultimate chick flick tells the story of San Francisco app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) who, on the heels of a big breakup, adopts a loyal golden retriever Summit (Steve Howey) and independent-minded cat Ajax (Justin Chatwin). A full moon causes a mystical event that transforms both pets into hunky men. Ajax and Summit become the perfect boyfriend material, and both begin to woo their human lady in an attempt to move back into their apartment.

Don’t let the story fool you: this movie is nowhere near as good as it sounds on paper, and it’s certainly not good enough for a theatrical release. There are some good yet predictable laughs (as the dog-man chases balls and fetches coffee while the cat-man hisses when angry and rapidly licks water out of glasses), but a majority of the writing is disjointed and uninspired. So much more could’ve been done with this material.

Much of the acting is ridiculously exaggerated and completely over the top. Micucci is a great choice for the lead role because she’s just so likeable, with boatloads of weird eccentricity and loony qualities. Not familiar with her work? She’s an even more offbeat version of Zooey Deschanel. Chatwin nails much of the diva, cat-like behavior he’s tasked with imitating, and the ever enjoyable Howey plays the same charming lunkhead that made him a sitcom star in the early 2000s on “Reba.” Although Illeana Douglas‘ horrific display of bad acting comes close, the worst performance in the film by far comes from Sean Astin, who looks more like a startled deer in the headlights than a professional actor. His panicked, cringe-worthy performance greatly detracts from every scene that he swiftly proceeds to ruin.

I wish this material had fallen into the hands of a more talented director (instead of Finn Taylor, who handles his directorial duties with an astonishing display of ineptitude) and a more capable cast, because I think this could’ve been a real winner — and maybe even a cult classic. Instead, it’s destined to be a D-list Redbox rental and spend most of its short shelf life touring the small-scale film festival circuit.

THIS FILM WAS SCREENED AND REVIEWED AT THE 2016 NAPA VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL

Matt was unavailable for review.

“En Man Som Heter Ov (A Man Called Ove)”

LOUISA: 5 STARS MATT: 5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

An exploration of one’s own humanity is at the center of “En Man Som Heter Ov (A Man Called Ove),” an enchanting, refreshing little gem of a film that hails from Sweden. This is a beautiful movie with a distinct voice that’s filled with a delicate balance of tragedy, sadness, heartbreak, and plenty of Scandinavian humor.

Based on the bestselling novel by author Fredrik Backman, the film tells the story of Ove (Rolf Lassgård), an isolated, ill-tempered, grumpy old man who finds purpose in his life by vigorously enforcing the too-tough rules of his neighborhood block association. He shuns most people and prefers to spend his days visiting his wife’s grave. When Ove decides that it’s finally time to take matters into his own hands and makes plans to kill himself so he can be reunited with his wife, a young family moves in next door and an unlikely friendship is formed.

While the cantankerous Ove is tortured and haunted by the loss of his adoring wife, he soon learns that he has so much more to live for and finds a new purpose in life by helping others (from his stroke-afflicted former best friend to a homeless teenage homosexual to an injured stray cat). The plot may sound ordinary, but the film is extraordinary.

Ove’s story is told in quite effective and compelling flashbacks, exploring the selective memories and the psyche of a man who has given up on life. With each failed or interrupted suicide attempt (a botched hanging stopped by the doorbell, a shotgun to the head that misfires, a carbon monoxide asphyxiation that flops), Ove remembers a previous part of his life. The story seamlessly switches from present to past, giving the audience a glimpse into Ove’s personality. He’s had plenty of past instances of overwhelming happiness — and more than a few devastating heartbreaks.

There are so many delightful (and tragic) surprises that I don’t want to post any spoilers here by giving away too much of the story. Let’s just say that this film has a big heart. It’s an oftentimes painful tale that’s also very, very funny. The story is sentimental but not overly so; it’s genuinely touching and will definitely pull on your heartstrings. You’d have to have a heart of pure stone not to be touched by this very special and very profound film.

“En Man Som Heter Ov (A Man Called Ove)” is a bittersweet tale of life, love, loss and loneliness, a movie that reminds us all that life is best lived surrounded by friends and family. It’s also one of the best films of the year.

MATT SAYS:

Ove (Rolf Lassgård) lives in a small and close-knit bedroom community in Sweden. Ove is cantankerous and ill-tempered. He greets most people with a snarl instead of a smile, and can’t seem to tolerate his neighbors. Apparently, Ove’s sole raison d’etre is to make his daily rounds, walking the neighborhood to check on who is violating the community rules. We don’t know why Ove is so irritable; even when others try to act nice to him, he is generally crabby.

But there is more to Ove than his temper. As we learn in a series of flashbacks, Ove has had his share of heartache and loss. He misses his wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll) terribly. As we learn through a series of flashbacks, Sonja was a bright spirit and Ove’s primary source of joy. When Sonja died, he sunk into a funk of sadness and self-pity, with no desire to emerge from it. It is only when Parvenah (Bahar Pars) moves in across the street that Ove begins to re-connnect with the world; Parvenah won’t allow Ove to continue to wallow in his sadness, instead insisting that Ove stay involved with the world and with life. As Ove starts to come out of his shell, we see that Ove is a man with a big heart that has a deep kindness and empathy for his fellow man.

As we learn more about Ove and the experiences that have formed his life, we begin to understand him on a deeper level. At its heart, “A Man Called Ove” is an amazingly touching love story of a husband and wife who built a life together. His and Sonja’s story is filled with both terrible and senseless tragedies and deep joy, and by watching Ove’s story unfold we realize why it so important to not judge a book by its cover. The need for connection runs deep in our humanity, and it is Ove’s ability to reconnect with the world around him that gives him new purpose in life.

It is this truth that is at the heart of “A Man Called Ove”; that love and compassion for one another can give us purpose, that one must join the world to appreciate its value and the joys, both little and big, that it can bring. Sometimes, with the world so divided and so infected by hate and intolerance, we need to be reminded that we are not all that different from one another, that our essential humanity binds us all. Although many films attempt to portray this simple truth, precious few are successful at transcending both the medium and language to capture and convey it.

Special movies like this come along only so often. We’re fortunate to have gotten two of them so far in 2016 (“Sing Street” being the other). Both of them are films you need to see, and I urge you to do so as soon as possible.

“American Honey”

LOUISA: 3 STARS MATT: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I have much respect for the intensely personal, visually stunning “American Honey,” the new avant-garde style film from director Andrea Arnold. How I wish it didn’t read as an overblown, self-indulgent disarray of semi-compelling ideas. This film is overly pretentious, rambling, and thinks it’s more important, and far better, than it actually is.

We first meet our heroine Star (Sasha Lane) dumpster diving with her two younger step-siblings. She’s living on scraps and in an (implied) sexually abusive home with her dad (mom’s out of the picture, dead from a meth overdose). Star spots a rag-tag group of wayward kids and decides to follow them into a local store, where she meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf), their handsome and charismatic leader and recruiter. Star sees him as sort of a savior, a way out of her desperate life and distressing situation. She ditches home to join the gang of kids on the road as they travel across the country selling overpriced magazine subscriptions.

Newcomer Lane is a standout in what’s undoubtedly a star making role; she plays Star with a delicate balance of toughness yet vulnerability and feels completely authentic throughout. The exceptionally talented LeBeouf turns in another credible performance as Jake, her temperamental and slightly ominous love interest. The supporting cast is convincing too, with Riley Keough all but stealing the show as the money-hungry, intimidating, salivating alpha boss Krystal.

Arnold films with a 4:3 square ratio, which feels less like a gimmick than a means of subversive artistic expression (Robbie Ryan‘s cinematography provides a gritty and gorgeous visual companion). The framing works because it gives a claustrophobic sense of enclosed spaces on the road trip with her makeshift family and mirrors Star’s view of her current life situation. Star only sees the limited vision that an 18 year old girl would see, as she tends to ignore the more perilous adult threats around her. Star is determined to come out on top, and it’s hard not to appreciate her savviness. I usually respond quite well to strong girl power stories like this, but I must admit that this is one of the only films where I didn’t want the girl to leave home — I wanted her to stay to look after her younger siblings instead of joining up with a sketchy crew of misfits.

There are plenty of cringe-worthy situations that only an adult with the hindsight of years of real life experience will understand. When Star carelessly hops into a car with three grown men and heads to their home for an afternoon of drinking and swimming, my pulse was racing with fear that the situation would end very badly. There are several situations in the film just like this one; whether they end in tragedy or not is a spoiler I won’t give away. It’s effective realism that flip-flops our perceptions of good and evil, and it’s incredibly well done.

The film has a definite mumblecore quality to it too, which helps lend authenticity to the story but also serves as a big distraction. The entire film feels like a Millennial’s iPad stuck on repeat. This film is so repetitive, beating the audience over the head — repeatedly — with its point. Over and over and over and over again. There are painful full length singalongs to popular songs; by the time the crew finally sings the titular tune by Lady Antebellum, the singalongs have been repeated so many times that it loses all impact. The soundtrack is killer, no doubt about it, but this constant repetition is irritating, annoying, and quickly becomes exasperating.

The film has layer upon layer of impressively textured visuals, a rich sense of place, and a true primal quality that vividly explores life as a disadvantaged teen runaway. It’s a restless, unrelenting glimpse of life in America from the point of view of those that society would rather choose to ignore. This film is so indulgent that it has a ridiculously long run time of nearly three hours, far too long to make a clear, concise point. It’s meandering and aimless, much like our teenage heroine.

I really wanted this to be a good film because I love and appreciate the idea and passion behind the project, but I simply wish it had been a little tighter. There’s still plenty to admire in “American Honey,” but it’s simply far too long and far too repetitive for me to heartily recommend.

MATT SAYS:

“American Honey” is an ambitious and more than a little pretentious film about youth in America and what it means to become an adult when you are woefully unprepared to do so. More particularly, it is about growing up in a country of staggering wealth and equally staggering poverty when you are in the latter category. It’s about reaching the age of majority when your childhood was one of struggle and disadvantage, where precious few options are open to you as you make your way in a world that doesn’t care about you.

Although “American Honey” is a fictional narrative, it doesn’t feel that way. Director Andrea Arnold and her cinematographer Robbie Ryan frame the screen as though it was shot on 16 millimeter film. Arnold uses a group of actors that feel so startlingly authentic that (with the exceptions of Shia LaBeouf (Jake) and Riley Keough (Krystal) and a few others), they must have themselves been pulled from the streets. It has a very documentary-like aesthetic that works well for the subject matter, and although things do happen, there is only the faintest thread of a plot. The movie rambles, ebbs and flows while it follows this group of homeless kids as they go door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions for business owner Krystal.

This documentary style of filmmaking is both the strength and weakness of “American Honey.” Some of the scenes are well-constructed and heartbreakingly painful to witness, but others are overly self-indulgent and largely pointless. At a running time of two hours and 45 minutes, While Director Arnold is very much in touch with her subjects, she is in no hurry to get to her point, and by the time she finally does get there the movie has worn you down to the point of indifference. Which is really too bad because there is much to like about the movie; the film should have either been edited to about half of its current length or expanded and developed as a miniseries.

I can’t strongly recommend “American Honey” as a theatrical experience, but it may be better suited to home video, where you have the ability to pause it and come back later.

 

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