Archive for July, 2016

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Finding humor in the realities of life seems to be Mike Birbiglia’s signature style of filmmaking.  First, his indie hit “Sleepwalk with Me,” charmed audiences with his self-deprecating look at love and making it in the improvisational world.  His recently released second feature film, “Don’t Think Twice” shows that same charisma, but with a more refined and complex story that makes you laugh and touches your heart as you relate with each and every character.  Birbiglia strikes gold with “Don’t Think Twice,” starring Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, and of course, Birbiglia.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The film is about a comedy troupe, The Commune, similar to one such as Chicago’s Second City, who are all trying to hit the big time.  As their company’s location closes its doors, they each have a sense of urgency in figuring out what their next step will be.  This family of friends has their loyalty and love tested when one member of their group is up for a huge break.  We get a beautiful glimpse inside the inner-workings of a comedy act and the personalities behind these individuals while they see their lives unfold, perhaps in a direction not to their liking.  It’s filled with laugh out loud humor and even a few suppressed tears.  Ok.  I’ll admit it.  I couldn’t suppress mine.

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Jack (Key) and Samantha (Jacobs) are a couple which definitely adds a level of stress and interesting conflict inside the gears of comedy.  Bill (Chris Gethard) is the meek and mild DSC_0581 2mannered soul with a heart of gold who seems to be able to read and understand those around him…sometimes to his detriment.  Lindsay (Tami Sagher) is the privileged  rich girl who tries to be one of the gang, but she’s always just a bit off.  Allison (Kate Micucci) will steal your heart, while Miles (Birbiglia), the teacher who seems to have already peaked in his career and resents this, is the glue that holds them all together.  Each and every character has a story to tell which adds to the beauty of their interactions.  We get the best of both worlds in this film as we have front and center seats to parts of comedy sets while we actually get to know the characters off stage.

 

Key has the performance of his career in “Don’t Think Twice.”  Obviously, he’s hilarious with his comedic timing and delivery, but who knew that he could be a convincing dramatic actor as well.  It’s a demanding role in that the weight of believability is truly placed on Key’s shoulders.  He readily takes on the challenge and gives us exactly what is needed.  Jacobs, having no improvisational experience, makes us think otherwise.  She’sDSC_0582 hilarious when it’s appropriate and then in a blink of an eye, she reminds us that she’s real as she portrays feelings of jealousy, love, and hurt in a wondrously intelligent way.  Birbiglia somehow beautifully balances writing, directing, and acting in this film.  He seems so natural at playing the type of character that you just want to hug and then kick in the butt to get him motivated.  Gethard’s performance is genuine and sincere, finding the subtlties of acting and comedy to pull the story along the proper course.  And finally, we have Micucci and Sagher to round out the leads with a sense of reality.

“Don’t Think Twice” is simply hilarious and heartwarming.  Finding a way to tell a story about the realities of balancing career and life,  bringing us into and behind the scenes of a comedy troupe, all the while making us care about each and every character is quite a feat.  Birbiglia is strong as the writer/director/actor and has found exactly the right combination of actors to give his script life.  Life is complex and this film portrays the humor as well as the ups and downs while still entertaining the audience.

Don’t think twice about seeing “Don’t Think Twice!”   Check out the interview from the Tribeca Film Festival with the stars and writer of this hilarious yet heartfelt new comedy HEREHERE, and HERE

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The title of the newest Jason Bourne movie should have been, “How to Make An Action Film Boring.”  The recipe they follow is ingenious.  They take a talented actor such as Matt Damon and give him very little screen time with inconsequential dialogue.  They then add equally talented supporting actors and do the same.  Mix these actors in with continuous action that seems irrelevant to the superficial and almost non-existent story and Voila!  you have a bedtime cocktail that will allow you to drift off into a peaceful sleep.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE Beware!  This trailer is basically the entire movie, but so much shorter!

vikanderbourneIf you haven’t seen the first three Jason Bourne movies, the film attempts to give you the low-down by using flashbacks and Julia Stiles character, Nicky Parsons, to provide stilted information about Bourne’s background.  In an attempt to create motivation for Bourne’s return, the story uses the classic “revenge” and “truth” themes, but alas, this is forgotten within the first 30 minutes.  The CIA, of course, isn’t the good guy and there are a few double crosses in the film.  What the story lacks, however, is significant.  We don’t care about Bourne.  We don’t care about Alicia Vikander’s character of CIA Agent Heather Lee.  We just don’t care about anything other than knowing the film is more than 2 hours long!  The only saving grace is when  Tommy Lee Jones utters two lines in his charming signature style.  Unfortunatley, this glimmer of a personality is quickly snuffed out and the film returns to its usJason-Bourne-trailer-03ual ridiculous and unwarranted killing, fighting, and running themes.  The entire film is one big chase scene that never seems to end.  In fact, Jason Statham movies have more substance than this film.

 

 

 

As there will be numerous mainstream reviews about this film, I’ll make mine short and give you a bulleted list of faults in this film:

  • Damon has too little screen time with very few lines.
  • Vikander isn’t American and her inability to use an American accent makes her performance stiff and unnatural.  (As a former speech-language pathologist who specialized in Foreign Accent Reduction and Accent Modification, I am acutely aware of this!)
  • The filming technique was nauseating.
  • The story was thread-bare, no substance
  • Stiles acting was stilted.
  • Too many undeveloped characters and story lines.
  • Too many close ups of computer screens and keyboards…click, click, click, stare, repeat.
  • The entire film could have been shortened to 10 minutes and would have been an intro for a more well-developed story and film.

Are there any positives?  Yes, for we women who adore Damon, he is shirtless within the first 2 minutes and we get another shot of that a bit later in the film.  That’s it.  Skip this film.  Paying $14 for validated parking at the Roosevelt Icon Theaters and two hours and three minutes of my time was a heavy price to pay.  I hope I’ve saved you your time and money.

 

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Is it possible to create a socially relevant horror flick?  The answer to that question is a resoundingly eerie YES!  “Red Christmas” takes on the guilt and justification of abortion in ways you never thought humanly possible.  Written by Craig Anderson who brought us the Slamdance hit “The Tail Job,” we get a glimpse inside one family’s attempt to celebrate the Christmas holiday.  With gut-wrenching cynicism and concepts boldly thrown in your face, this gruesomely thought-provoking film will cut you to the core…exactly like some of the characters—literally.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Diane, the mother of 4 adult children, one with Down’s Syndrome, gather at her house to celebrate Christmas Day one final time in their childhood home.  After the death of her husband taken too early, she has decided to sell the home and travel abroad, much to her children’s chagrin.  These siblings seem to have never grown up, harboring resentment and spewing it forth at their mother like daggers.  But then there’s a knock on the door.  A cloaked stranger enters.  As patience wear thin and a body is sliced in two, the family wakes up as to the identity of this cloaked man…he is the aborted fetus come back for revenge.

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Creepy.  “Red Christmas” is absolutely disturbingly creepy, but also ingenious!  It’s a dark dramedy that reigns in the questions of religion, life after death, and the consequences of our actions, both in the here and now and the everlasting.  Not only does this film address the topic of abortion, we also find ourselves tackling acceptance of a child with Down’s Syndrome and his perception of what is taking place.  It’s heartbreaking at one point and then somehow Anderson finds a way to make many parts darkly comedic.  The shockingly realistic and brutal gore leaves you in total disbelief…your mouth gaping wide.  The dialogue among these very dysfunctional family members create a dynamic that just might be familiar, but hopefully only on an extreme level.  It’s a captivating concept, expertly written, and daring to say the least.

 

The style of filmmaking brings you, the viewer, into the house creating a “fly on the wall” type of feeling.  To say it’s beautifully filmed is quite accurate, but keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  It is a horror film, after all.  The intentional use of color and special effects are breathtakingly frightful jDee Wallace Gun Green - Red Christmas Photo by Douglas Burgdorffolting you into a state of high alert.  It’s a masterpiece of psychological and physical terror with an ending that will leave you squirming.

 

The cast just adds to the distressful and horrifying film.  Dee Wallace plays Diane, the mother attempting to save her living children from the horrors before her.  She’s the epitome of a mom…she tries to make everyone happy, attempts to keep a smiling face no matter what, and will protect her children at any length.  She readily conveys the fact that her conflicted soul has been buried for so long, but the need to save her children, those truly living anyway, far outweighs her own safety.  Janis McGavin (Ginny) and Sarah Bishop (Suzy) are polar opposite sisters who fight like cats and dogs.  They are at the same time hilarious and exhausting.  The entire cast feels like a family, but we’re not talking Brady Bunch.  More like Arrested Development goes horror.

 

“Red Christmas” is a genre bending film blending social relevance into horror films.  It’s bold statements and presentation along with an element of humor creates a fascinating yet frightful film.  Beware!  It’s gory and addresses topics not easily discussed which is, in my book, the definition of daring.   “Red Christmas” is a daring film, blurring the lines of drama, dark comedy, and horror into a socially relevant production that will stimulate a heated conversation.  Now, that’s a film!

 

 

NERVE

Written by: Jeanne Ryan (novel), Jessica Sharzer (screenplay)

Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Starring: Emma Roberts and Dave Franco

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The timely teen thriller, “Nerve,” brings virtual reality gaming to a dangerous new conceptual level.  Imagine an on-line game that you choose to be a “player” or a “watcher” as the players receive money for completing a dare.  The more dangerous the dare, the more money the player wins.  The two players who have the most watchers and complete the dares make it to the final round.  Greed and the need for fame is the name of the game.

WATCH THE ‘NERVE’ TRAILER HERE

Vee (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior who plays it safe in life as she hides behind the lens of a camera, never taking chances until one day, she’s had enough.  Peer pressure and rejection from a boy are the impetus that push Vee to select “Player” on the screen.  Initially, rather fun dares such as kissing a complete stranger and trying on a $4,000 dress at Bergdorf Goodman’s are all rather harmless.  But teaming up with Ian (Dave Franco) may just quite literally be the death of her.

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“Nerve” is a high energy and engaging film that in many ways you could envision happening.  The relationships among these young adults typifies the high school era to a “t.”  Vee’s best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) is always striving to be the center of attention while Tommy’s (Miles Heizer) secret crush on Vee isn’t all that secret.  In the course of one evening, near death experiences and other catastrophic situations pit friend against friend and push the moral boundaries of these teens.  We also see the film harnessing the psychology of “mob mentality,” a disturbing, yet realistic part of the film.  The film is strong until the end where it seems to lose momentum and have the need to wrap up all the loose ends quickly.  A bit more focus on a proper ending would have made this a hit for all age groups.

 

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Roberts, although a few years past her high school days, easily convinces us she’s 18 again.  Her subdued confidence masked by overt insecurities create this realistic character.  Backhanded comments and retorts find their way easily into the dialogue with her peers, bringing our memories back to our own kids or our past.  Franco seems to be at home with any character he embodies.  He’s got a natural chemistry with Roberts that is sweet and charming in a way that only youth can capture.  While the story is a classic teen tale, there is only one parent in the film played by Juliette Lewis whose role is almost irrelevant.  Unfortunately, that’s how she plays it as well.

 

This tall teen tale that perhaps isn’t as far-fetched as one would like to imagine.  When first introduced to the concept, one would think that it has a distinct possibility of happening.  “Nerve” is a creative concept capitalizing on the current technological prowess in the young Millenials.  With imaginative stunts, lots of action, teen angst, and a love story, this film will be the summer thriller to entertain teens and twenty-somethings as well as gamers.

3 Stars

T2: Trainspotting

The cult classic “Trainspotting” will be celebrating it’s 21st birthday by releasing T2: Trainspotting.  The film that catapulted the careers of Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, and Jonny Lee Miller will be reunited in this sequel written and directed by Danny Boyle.  The original is one of the most realistically uncomfortable and harsh films of its kind while maintaining a sense of dark and ironic humor showing both the attraction and the revulsion of drug addiction.  Check out the trailer for T2: Trainspotting and then mark your calendar for February 3, 2017 because Spud, Renton, Sick Boy, and Begbie are back!

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Energy and diversity go hand in hand in the documentary “Denial” which premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival recently.  With our ever-increasing and demanding need for fossil fuels and energy, Vermont’s  electric company CEO, Dave Hallquist, has been ahead of the learning curve, attempting to bring his forward thinking know-how into the grid of reality.  However, when his filmmaker son Derek decides to document his father’s progress in the fight for cleaner energy and a better Earth, he learns about a long-buried secret that his father isn’t the man he thought he was.  Dave, now known as Christine, reveals on camera to his son that he is actually more comfortable as a woman.  The film tackles denial on two fronts in perfect parallel form:  climate change and identity.  “Denial” intelligently portrays how we are more comfortable denying reality rather than facing the truth.  It’s an emotionally raw journey of love, fear, and reality.

I had the opportunity to talk with both Derek and Christine who candidly shared with me their thoughts about the filming of “Denial”  and their future hopes regarding climate change and our understanding of others’ sexual identity.

In the film, Derek interviews those closest to his father including family members, co-workers, and community leaders.  It’s obvious that Derek is very close with his family, always concerned about the effects of his film on others, particularly his parents.  Christine strongly felt that this film was Derek’s story and that “…he needs to tell it completely from his own perspective.  If that means I come out as a monster that would be okay, as long as it was his truth.  The good news is that was not his truth.”

“Denial” is a very personal movie for Derek and having spent 8 years on it, taking time away from his own family, there is a bit of anger and perhaps resentment toward it.  In fact, he described it as being “…like an endless wormhole…”  And even with his acceptance of his father now being Christine, he still struggles with how this has impacted his mother.  “…mom always asked why I was interviewing her about dad’s gender identity for an energy documentary.”  He continued, “As time went on, she even drew the parallels to society’s struggles with their energy identity and accepting climate change.”  Derek seemed determined to wake others up about the impact of electricity usage on our environment, but the story “became a lot more complicated both at work and in private….We had to make a film about struggle and ultimately acceptance.”  Derek’s emotions are raw and open, truly allowing viewers to feel his pain and frustration.  He admits that he continues to struggle even today.

The film certainly runs two parallel story-lines, but can both end with acceptance and understanding?  That remains to be seen.  Christine’s forward thinking was described as being “…born decades too early.”  She countered that, “With any significant change there are those who are ahead of their time…I believe real change occurs through leadership, collaboration and constancy of purpose.”

Since the film, Christine has received both local and national support.  Thankfully, she has not seen any evidence that her continued efforts toward renewable energy sources has been compromised as she transitioned into Christine.  Continuing forward, Christine hopes that the “…Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) can demonstrate an effective model that shows how we can completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels in all areas including transportation and heating and cooling.”  Using renewable energy, Smart Grids and appliances is in the works and currently, “the VEC footprint is greater than 95% carbon free.” Sadly, Christine admits, this will not repair the damage to our Earth, but it is working in a positive direction.  The parallels continue to be clear in Christine’s story and climate change.   She had reached a point of intolerable suffering existing as a man.  She feels that the population as a whole will also have to reach a point of misery that is intolerable before we do something about our environment.   She believes that will happen in the next 10 years for our environtment.

“Denial” is  a timely and relevant documentary told with bold and powerful emotion.  It gives you hope that we can face our fears and the unknown, educate ourselves, and be open to new and different ideas if we allow ourselves to be.  The stories told, addressing completely different topics, really tell one fluid story—denial is intolerable; acceptance and understanding allows us to progress.

 

 

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Written by English Lovers Comedy Troupe

 Directed by Jim Libby and Nicolas Neuhold

Starring:  Kathy Tanner, Bronwynn Mertz-Penzinger, Anne Weiner, Michael Smulik, Jim Libby, Dennis Kozeluh, and Jacob Banigan

Now available on demand via Amazon.  GO HERE TO SEE THE MOVIE VIA AMAZON

Everyone loves Second City and improvisational performances.  That’s evidenced by the fact that you can’t get a ticket to the main show in Chicago for at least a month!  Well, what would happen if a talented improv comedy troupe called English Lovers took that unscripted humor to the screen and shouted, “Action!”  The result is exactly what we get in “Another One Opens.”  Armed only with a brief outline of the scene, the actors took their creative interactional skills and made a movie.  The result is unexpectedly wonderful, funny, and believe it or not, thought-provoking.

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Set in the countryside, down a picturesque canopied lane, nestled in the trees and overgrown gardens, is a castle.  But this isn’t just any castle.  With its many doors, it takes each of its guests along a personal journey to help them take down the roadblocks in their lives.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Professor William Anderson and his wife, Charlotte, are empty nesters and at a time in their lives that they should truly be living and enjoying everything life has to offer, but “Bill” has shut down.  Charlotte calls upon life-long friends of Bill’s and former students, Russel, Sid, and Malcolm.  She has arranged  a weekend for them all at this mysterious and ancient castle.  Aunt Zara, the reserved and slightly eerie owner, along with the beautiful niece, Emma, check the guests into the estate.  As they sign in, they have signed on for more than they realize.

We all have baggage.  No one is as they seem to be on the surface.  The older we get the more baggage we carry and sometimes we need help with that load.  It’s been 20 years since these five friends have united and life has treated them all differently.  They all need help carrying their loads.  As they are “welcomed” into the castle by Aunt Zara and  Emma, they are also encouraged to explore the castle and open all its doors.  One by one, the guests reveal their issues, and one by one, they open the mystical and magical door they need to help resolve that issue.

What lies behind each of these personal doors is the most engaging aspect of the film.  Unique to each person’s needs, the settings behind  the doors  range from an old train station to a casino.  These dream-like sequences show us complete pictures of each character as well as their deepest needs and desires.  It makes you wonder what would be behind YOUR OWN door?

This is not only a creative tale, it is a thought-provoking one. The story unfolds naturally allowing the viewer to identify with many, if not all, of the struggles of each characters.  Malcolm has lost his love, Bill has lost his love for life, and Charlotte passionately wants her love back.  The other characters have relatable issues as well.  It truly depicts the old adage that when one door closes another one opens.  Beautifully filmed in one gorgeous setting after another, the film evokes a love of times gone by where cell phones don’t dominate face to face time, and we actually see and appreciate the scenery surrounding us.

Although somewhat slow paced at times with a few stilted conversations and unnatural pauses, these flaws can easily be overlooked as the overall message is worth it.  Most importantly, this entire film was improvised.  No script.  No character preparation.  No rehearsals. And no “take 2.”  Every scene filmed dictated what would happen in the next scene.  To tell a fluid story that meaningfully meanders and intertwines seamlessly is quite a feat.  These seasoned improv comedians tell a story for an audience each and every night and taking this skill to the silver screen has proved fruitful.  With improvisation, comes key highlights as well as downfalls.  However, this is a wonderful story, portrayed beautifully by talented actors.

I would be remiss if I dAnotheroneopens1idn’t mention the camera work on this film.  Outstanding shots to truly capture the beauty of the country-side in Austria as well as unique camera angles to convey meaning were impactful.  Use of perfect lighting and unique lenses to transport the viewer to the appropriate period were spot on.  The deft abilities of the camera crew enabled these actors to tell their story more skillfully.

“Another One Opens” is a charming, sweet, and sometimes quirky story full of creativity, imagination, and beauty.  Although, improvisational filmmaking appears to have a few flaws, the raw power that it gives a film is well worth it.

Listen to a few clips with the filmmakers HERE

 

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Fans of “Star Trek” would not consider me a true fan, but in my heart, having grown up watching the corny yet endearing television series, I know that I am.  Do I know all the creatures and episodes by heart?  No.  I’ve raised two kids and have hobbies so I’m afraid my brain does not allow permanent retrieval access to details such as these.  But again, I am a fan at least in my mind.  I even enjoyed the more recent films from 2009 and 2013 (“Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness”), but this newest version lulled me to sleep and confused the time line of events.

Let’s face it.  There is no need for another review of this film, but given that I represent a large portion of the population (female and I don’t attend Comic Con on a regular basis), I thought it was only fair to at least give a synopsis of why I can’t recommend this film.

Action.  Is there such a thing as too much action?  Yes.   From the very beginning, your auditory and visual senses are bombarded by the laser whipping and zipping sounds, explosions, and dizzying closeup acrobatic feats that force you into a fetal position to protect your vestibular system.  I’m going to defend myself right now and say, “Yes, I know this is supposed to be an action flick, but with little story-line and lack of personality from the lead character, why not just watch the trailers?”  And now I’ve said it.  The blue-eyed wonder boy, Chris Pine, created a cardboard rendition of Captain James T. Kirk.  What would William Shatner say?  That’s not to say that the original cornball humor hasn’t been recreated.  It has.  Just not to the extent to keep my interest.  Whenever “Bones” (Karl Urban) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) are on the screen together, there is a glimmer of humor and personality just waiting to shine.  A bit more of that would have gone a long way.

That brings me to the overall story or lack thereof.  When you start off with non-stop action balanced by long and boring scenery of ships floating in outer space, you know the story is going to suffer.  Think “Furious (you pick the number)” for outer space.  With little story depth, those of us who go to the movies to watch a good story told well will be disappointed.  There’s also a confusion of when this team of peace seeking astronauts are living.  Initially thought to be the younger version of the television series characters, there were third person references to Spock in the future which made me question whether or not this was true.  Overall, a dull and at times, confusing story.

Pine wasn’t the only one with a lackluster performance.  Quinto and Simon Pegg (“Scotty”) played it too safe.  You could feel that they wanted to give it a little more, but the lid stayed on that not-yet boiling water of a personality.  Continuing along the boredom train is Urban’s delivery of lines which seemed to be read from cue cards being held in the distance.  Thankfully, the lines were funny so that even he couldn’t sabotage the humor.  Sadly, Anton Yelchin who I first loved in “Charlie Bartlett” and have since come to admire in roles such as “Like Crazy” and “Rudderless,” was only  given the opportunity to blast his Russian accented lines as loudly as possible.  This talented actor now lost to us wasn’t given a chance to give a decent performance.  The brightest star in this film was the unexpectedly tough and bizarrely costumed Sofia Boutella who plays “Jaylah.”  She was striking in appearance as well as her physical prowess and intermittently surprising comedic role.

Filming in 3D has got to be expensive and difficult, but if you don’t do it right, it’s awful.  And guess what!  This was awful.  Seeing it at the Navy Pier IMax has got to be one of the best places to see it, so I am not going to fault the theater.  The 3D aspect was simply irritating and not entertaining.  However, the make up and costuming were simply stellar.

“Star Trek Beyond” is not going to entertain fans like me or newbies to the series.  For those true Trekkies out there, you’re going to love it just because of what it represents.  For the rest of us, go see a film like “Don’t Think Twice” or “Cafe Society.”  You can thank me later.

1 Star

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WEINER-DOG

Starring Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, and Greta Gerwig

Written and Directed by Todd Solondz

Isn’t that little Dachshund cute?  And that little boy playing his flute for the little wiener dog is absolutely adorable.  Then based on the poster, this must be a sweet “boy and his dog” movie, right?  WRONG!  Absolutely the furthest thing from the truth!  The opening credits break your heart, if you’re a dog lover, as the camera pans along cage after cage of sweet little canine fluff balls, knowing that they have a slim chance of being adopted from this shelter.  The camera stops and holds for an uncomfortable amount of time as we watch this Dachshund react to being placed in a cage.  Finally, we find ourselves watching as this dog has a new home with a little boy who has fought from entering death’s door due to cancer.  The dog, affectionately named Wiener Dog, has a few nasty issues, and finds himself in another home and then another and another.  The story follows this dog as he impacts each and every owner, all of whom are grim and see the world from an either depressed, grim, or just matter of fact way.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“Weiner-Dog” is a most unusual film given that there are 5 short stories or vignettes, all typifying some tragically emotional condition. Death abounds:  the meaning life; God; our purpose in life; regrets; and the uncertainties.  As this sweet dog travels from the young boy’s house to the veterinarian’s assistant’s life, then on to the the couple with Down’s Syndrome, he creates a bit of uplifting sweetness.  The best stories, not surprisingly, are the two final ones.  Danny DeVito is a professor of film at a local community college, fighting for keeping his job all while reaching for the stars in filmmaking and Ellen Burstyn is the grandmother who has given up on life.  While death becomes no one, it is a reality that is typically a taboo subject.  Writweiner3er and director Todd Solondz finds a way to tackle this subject head on, no holds barred.  He’s point blank and directs his actors to deliver just such a performance.  Harsh is the word that immediately comes to mind.  While humor is carefully interwoven into each of the stories, it is more of an ironic type of humor if not just outright dark.  Although the “intermission” did give a bit of comic relief as this dog transitions from one home to another.

The film is shocking, visually as well as intellectually.  This is not a film for the faint of heart and I find myself in that category.  Hearing Delpy’s character describe to her son why a dog should be spayed and neutered is cringe-worthy.  Mother of the Year she will not be.  Open and frank dialogue about any topic with no edit mode can be a surprising and uncomfortable conversation.   However, death is a part of life and “Wiener-Dog” finds a way to talk about it as an everyday, depressing topic while also looking at one’s need for being immortal and never really being ready for the final scene of life.

Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy create an antagonistic and angry couple who look at life differently due to the circumstances they were dealt.  Greta weiner4Gerwig finds her unique quirkiness to portray “Dawn Wiener,” flashing back to a previous film according to Pat McDonald, film critic for HollywoodChicago.com.  Kieran Culkin is type cast as the socially bizarre counterpart to Gerwig, creating an uncomfortable yet touching story.  Connor Long and Bridget Brown show us that people with disabilities deserve a chance to act.  Phenomenal performances from each of these young actors open up your eyes to see things a little differently.  DeVito is stellar as the loser who refuses to see himself as such as he sinks to emotional lows, never giving up the reins in his life.  He allows us to laugh and sigh in sympathy with his skilled delivery of his lines.  Burstyn finds a way even with glaucoma sunglasses on, to exude anger and regret as well as hope just with her voice and body language.  We feel her pain, her pride, and her surprise at aging.  The entire cast gives us beautifully dark characters all revolving around the real star in the film, the sweet and loving dog.

“Weiner-Dog” is a dark, depressing, and morose look at life and its end.  While the stories are as unique as the subject matter, the film will leave you angry, horrified, and wanting to cry.  This is truly a daring and thought-provoking film which I predict will not be well-recieved by the mainstream as it tackles a topic usually not discussed with such honesty.  Be warned that this film is not for everyone as it is unpredictably shocking.

2 Stars

 

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“Captain Fantastic” stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a father of six, raising his children off the grid in the backcountry of Oregon.  His wife and the mother of these extraordinary children has gone back to society due to a depression disorder.  After learning of her suicide, the family must re-enter life and the chaotic world to deal with this trauma.  It’s an imaginative wake-up call and beautiful portrayal of relationships expressing what is truly important in life.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The term “home school” has quite a unique meaning as we see Ben (Mortensen) and his children hunting for their food sans guns.  The poor deer never had a chance.  The actions we witness are startling, initially, and then we see that these children not only learn survival skills, but also philosophy, quantum physics, and literature that most of us would have been introduced to in graduate school.  From the adorable Zaja (Shree Crooks) who adores her dad, but misses her mom, to the young adult Bo (George MacKay), struggling to grow up and find his way, these children exhibit the intelligence and intuitiveness any parent would be proud of.  However, not having been exposed to outside influences, the situations and reactions they find themselves in are at times hilarious and others heartbreaking.

You become invested in this filcaptm from the moment you meet the children.  As you get to know their personalities, hopes, and desires, you truly care about them.  Watching their interactions, listening to them talk about Marxism, Noam Chomsky, and hearing their innocent comments about American society makes you think about your own values and parenting skills.  Imagine never having seen a video game before or having rehearsed how to handle being pulled over by the police while driving an unregistered bus.  These situations are surprisingly comedic.  Then we have the stark contrast between this family and their cousins which creates a visual dichotomy that is as sad as it is funny.  Attending their mother’s funeral is the end goal, but each child is affected differently by this great loss.  The “family team” begins to fall apart, especially after becapt2ing exposed to the luxurious wealth of their grandfather (Frank Langella).  It’s a complicated, multilevel story just like real life.

 

Mortensen is stellar in this role.  He portrays a tough, yet caring and loving father who ultimately questions his style of parenting—much like any other parent.  We feel his pain, his sorrow, and his ultimate love.   MacKay typifies any 17 or 18 year old in many ways, but his innocence is simply charming even as he rebels and defies his father.    Shree Crooks steals the show as she delivers lines completely unexpected for a little girl.  The entire cast of children is truly remarkable as we watch the family dynamics spiral out of control.  Langella easily portrays the gruff and judgmental grandfather who is mourning the loss of his daughter.  The antagonistic relationship between his character and Ben is uncomfortably real bringing even more credibility to these outstanding performances.

 

 

“Captain Fantastic” gives us a beautifully complicated story enveloped by gorgeous cinematography.  At the core of this film is the issue of relationships and the continuous growth each character experiences.  Touching upon life, death, independence, and family bonds, “Captain Fantastic” is not just an entertaining movie, it’s thought-provoking, intelligent, and genuine.

 

4 Stars