Archive | July, 2016

Cafe Society

22 Jul

True to the “post-‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ law” that every third film’s a winner, Woody Allen rings the bell (after the stinkers “Irrational Man” and “Magic in the Moonlight”) with “Café Society,” a nostalgic nod to growing up a Jew in New York City and the dawn of the Hollywood studio era. It’s a return to the director’s roots and a clear bit of personal therapy. At the core, however, burns idealism, longing and the modulation of one’s own personal views over time.

072116i Cafe SocietyOur protagonist, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), an impassioned nebbish from the Bronx with dreams of grandeur, possesses the right seeding of an Allen alter-ego. Given he’s a young man living in a cramped post-Depression apartment with a yenta-lite mom (an excellent Jeannie Berlin), Bobby heads to Tinseltown, where Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is an agent to the stars and hobnobs with the likes of Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers and Errol Flynn. We never meet any of these icons like we did in “Midnight in Paris,” but Phil talks to them often on the telephone as Bobby sits longingly across from him in Phil’s big office, hoping his mother’s brother will toss him a bone and give him a job.

Being extremely in demand but obliged to family, Phil asks his assistant Vonnie (Kristin Stewart) to show Bobby around. The first thing the two do is tool around town and gaze at the stars’ mansions – namely Joan Crawford’s – and it’s quickly obvious that Bobby, who’s just recently notched an awkward experience with a Jewish call girl and is clearly not skilled with women, is smitten. Problem is, Vonnie’s already spoken for by a man of stature who, for all his admirable reputation, isn’t around much. As this is heartless Hollywood, it doesn’t take long for revelations and complications to upend the applecart and send Bobby back in New York. Eventually he regains his footing by running a nightclub with his brother Benny (Corey Stoll), a feared gangster with a warm demeanor. In short, Benny’s a lethal blend, smart, loyal and a master at strong-arm tactics. The irony here is that Stoll recently played a straight-laced prosecutor who helps take down Whitey Bulger in “Black Mass.” It’s also a stroke of casting genius, as whenever Stoll (as with Berlin) is on the screen, the radiance of the film shines that much brighter. Continue reading

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Wiener-Dog

7 Jul

Todd Solondz’s films have always been about the quiet struggles in dark corners. His 1989 debut, Fear, Anxiety, and Depression,pretty much tells you that in the title, but it was his sophomore effort, 1995’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, a coming-of-age tale down all the wrong paths, that cemented that notion and branded Solondz an indie auteur to watch for.

Solondz’s latest, Wiener-Dog, is a sequel of sorts to Dollhouse as that film’s protagonist, Dawn Wiener, is one of several owners of the film’s titular dachshund. This is not the first mention of Dawn in Solondz’ cinematic universe; her name also popped up in the director’s 2004 flick Palindromes, which featured the travails of her cousin Aviva played by seven actors of varying race, age and gender. Sadly, it was revealed early on in Palindromes that Dawn had committed suicide. With Wiener-Dog, it’s unknown if Solondz has had a change of heart or if this film take places before Dawn’s death. Either way, Dawn “Wiener Dog” Wiener is back, with Greta Gerwig taking over for Dollhouse‘s Heather Matarazzo.

In Solondz’s latest, the titular pup evokes, much in the same way the onerous ass does in Robert Bresson’s timeless classicAu Hasard, Balthazar (1966), the true nature of its handlers. Just how humane are they behind closed doors with no one but the dog as a mute witness. But unlike Au Hasard, Balthazar‘s donkey, Christ-like and in ways, more human than the people around it, Wiener-Dog is just a furry prop, however sad and vulnerable, that is passed from one set of hands to the next to elicit the truthful testimony of Solondz’s troubled souls. Continue reading

Swiss Army Man

7 Jul

Flatulence abounds in Swiss Army Man, a surreal curio straight out of Sundance. I shit you not.

Daniel Radcliffe, the fresh-faced young lad who brought Harry Potter to life, plays a dead body named Manny who washes ashore and ass burps his way through the film, spouting more gas than lines — and yes, he talks. How’s that, you might ask. It’s a qualified answer and one of the many enigmatic facets and WTFs of Swiss Army Man that along with a limitless stale rush of methane, drives the film piquantly along.

To its benefit, the film revels in its weird comic absurdity. It’s never as existential or nihilistic as something more flatlined and high-brow like Waiting for Godot, but it does feel freely mined from the cranium of Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) had he been locked up in solitary with nothing but a stack of Mad magazines to pass the day. At its palpable core,Swiss Army Man is a buddy film and a touching one at that without ever submerging into the maudlin, though its arc could have been better tempered given the myriad of Sundance incubator labs it went through — it won the festival’s directing award this year after all.

We begin with a nearly unrecognizable Paul Dano, bearded and grossly weathered by the sun and sea, as Hank, a man who we assume has been stranded on an island for a long enough period of time to let the destitute of loneliness consume him to the point of wanting to off himself. Standing on an ice chest, noose around his neck, Hank’s about to do the deed when Manny arrives in the briny surf. The sight of another fellow human gives Hank pause, but his attempts to revive Manny just brings around gurgling gushes of gas. The next thing you know, Hank’s jet boarding across the ocean atop Manny, driven by sphincter propulsion.  Continue reading

Wiener-Dog, Todd Solondz Interview

7 Jul

‘Wiener-Dog’ — A Comedy Of Despair About Mortality And A Dachshund

A still from Todd Solondz's latest film "Wiener-Dog." (Courtesy IFC Films)closemore

Indie auteur Todd Solondz, whose latest dark comedy “Wiener-Dog” opens Friday, has always made films his way — on his own terms — plumbing moral and ethical realms that would make most cringe. If he sounds like something of a maverick or self-starter, on paper he is, but in the flesh he casts a very different image.

To begin with, Solondz, who cites Andy Warhol and John Waters as influences, is a mild reflective sort and willing to collaborate for the sake of art. He’s quite humble too. After eight features he points out, “I am very fortunate I am still able to get films made,” referring to the struggle many directors face trying to garner enough funding to make independent film.  Continue reading