LA RESTAURACION (2020, Peru)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We don’t typically look to Peru for observant black comedy filmmaking; however this first feature film from writer-director Alonso Llosa (story co-written with Gustavo Rosa) is one of those pleasant surprises we usually only get from film festivals or a spontaneous streaming selection. It’s yet another reminder that an entertaining film doesn’t require a massive budget or a mega-movie star. A terrific story with relatable characters and heartfelt performances will do just fine.

Shots of Lima’s towering and shiny new skyscrapers open the film as we hear from the narrator who describes the booming economy, as well as Peru being “a country of builders that peaked during the Inca period”. That narrator is Tato Basile (played by Paul Vega), a 50-ish failure at life. He dropped out of school which kept him from pursuing his preferred career as an architect. His marriage didn’t last. He has no job, lives with his mother, is addicted to cocaine, and claims he is ‘psychologically incapable of working”. His mother Rosa (Attilia Boschetti) is bedridden and near death, and is fairly disgusted with her grown man son who should have figured out life by now. Still, she grudgingly gives him money for his habit. Her long-time trusted housekeeper and personal assistant Gloria (Delfina Peredes) has protected Rosa from the fact that the family funds are nearly depleted … and the once glorious mansion is crumbling.

One day Tato runs into old friend Raymond (Pietro Sabille), who is now a real estate tycoon cashing in on Lima’s boom market. Their conversation leads Tato to concoct an ingenious and devious plan that requires the assistance of Gloria, as well as Eladio (Luis Fernando Ananos Raygada), the family friend-gardener-handyman-driver, and Inez (Muki Sabogal), Rosa’s young caregiver. The idea is to sell the family house to Raymond for top dollar, and to keep the transaction a secret from Rosa by telling her the family home is being renovated. To pull this off, the co-conspirators will re-create her bedroom in a remote location, and pipe in construction noise and the familiar aroma of the neighbor’s stew. Of course the plan is ludicrous, but desperation for money often leads to poor decisions.

Llosa includes humorous moments and memorable characters, in addition to the life lessons that Tato learns about 3 decades later than he should. Rosa has a recurring acute punchline about disliking “social climbers”, and the score has a 1980’s “Miami Vice” vibe that complements the retro look and feel of the film (including the credits). Llosa’s film is sweet, funny, and sad, and is an example of excellent story-telling. Mr. Vega perfectly captures adult Tato as he finds the soul and love that he’s been lacking. This one might take some effort to track down, but you’ll likely find it worthwhile and entertaining. I sure did.

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2 HEARTS (2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve seen it before. Two stories, seemingly unrelated, yet parallel. Only this time it’s based on a true story, and the 2017 book “All My Tomorrows” by Brian Gregory. Director Lance Hool and co-writers Veronica Hool and Robin U. Russin serve up a touching and inspirational story of how the lives of families can intersect, and how triumph can come from tragedy.

Admittedly, the film has a bit of Lifetime Movie Channel look and feel. It even begins with some conventional philosophy on life courtesy of our narrator: it’s either a miracle or it’s not, and life either happens to us or for us. These are neither particularly thought-provoking nor deep, however, they do set the stage well enough for the story. We first see an unconscious Chris Gregory (Jacob Elordi, THE KISSING BOOTH) being wheeled on a gurney into the surgical area of a hospital. His loved ones are obviously concerned. We then cut to a period many years earlier as a young Cuban boy passes out on a soccer field. We learn Jorge Bolivar has a lung disease, and has been told at various stages that he wouldn’t live past 12, 20, or 30 years old.

Despite the different time periods, we see the symmetry with the romantic interests of the men. Modern day college student Chris (also the film’s narrator) literally bumps into Sam (Tiera Skovbye, “Riverdale”), and the two become ‘Safety Buddies’ on campus – offering a ride to those students in need. An older Jorge (Adnan Canto, “Designated Survivor”) locks eyes with flight attendant Leslie (Radha Mitchell), which kicks off a whirlwind globe-trotting romance. Chris is a middle-class boy whose parents (Kari Matchett, Tahmoh Penikett) are loving and demanding. Jorge is part of a wealthy Cuban family forced to relocate to Miami due to political pressures under Castro.

Keeping up with the time period for Jorge and Leslie involves spotting the clothing styles and technology hints, and very few viewers won’t know where this is headed well before it gets there. The two staged weddings provide all kinds of cuteness, as does goofy, easy-going Chris. Life perspective is one of the key takeaways here, as is a fact that most people should already be well aware: organ donors make a difference and mean the world to those impacted. The film ends with a note on the Gabriel House of Care, a non-profit worth researching.

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ON THE ROCKS (2020)

October 4, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sofia Coppola cemented her place among top filmmakers with the instant classic LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003). Sure, she’s had other successes with THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999), MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006), and SOMEWHERE (2010), but it’s her thought-provoking and self-analytical film with Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson that struck an emotional nerve for so many. This time, she reunites with Murray in what could easily be a companion piece, as it’s both familiar and not.

Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”) stars as Laura, who is trying to find herself as a writer amidst the fatiguing responsibilities that go with being a mother and wife, and having age 40 staring her in the face. Marlon Wayans (WHITE CHICKS, 2004) plays her charming, just-started-a-new-business husband Dean, who may or may not be cheating on her. Whether it’s Laura’s concern over how “boring” she has become, or the little clues she finds … well, it’s probably nothing … but doubt grows into suspicion.

It’s at this point when Felix (Murray), Laura’s father, enters the story. Felix is a likable cad (probably an archaic word, but it fits), who has never been much of a father to Laura. Instead he chases fun and skirts, and begins convincing Laura that all men are like him. Director Coppola examines contemporary relationships, and the insecurities that come with a long-term commitment. Can one person be enough? Can men be trusted?

What follows is an offbeat father-daughter husband-spying adventure, and an ill-advised one at that. Felix pulls up in his Alpha Romeo, and the two enjoy caviar on their stakeout – with the top down on the convertible. This leads to a scene clearly written to take advantage of Bill Murray’s talents. As he zips the sports car through the city, he gets stopped by New York’s finest. Depending on your perspective, you’ll either view this as a prime example of white privilege, or as the benefits of spending one’s life being a good listener, attentive to others – a people person making connections.

There is a great line from Felix that carries a great deal of weight, although it’s easy to treat it as a ‘throw away” line. He advises Laura, “You need to start thinking like a man.” Spending time with her dad makes her wonder if he’s right – do all men think like him? This plays well against the non-stop yapping mother Laura gets regularly cornered by when dropping her daughter for school. Jenny Slate is perfectly annoying as the mother who not only still thinks the world revolves around her, but also that the world is still interested.

Of course, we know, and Laura figures it out: her father worships her. He may gallivant around the globe looking for his next notch, but he absolutely realizes what a beautiful soul his daughter is, and what a better person she is than him. Probably the best lesson Ms. Coppola offers is that communication is key … or lack of communication can cause a thought to spin out of control. Sofia Coppola and Rashida Jones are both daughters of giants in their field, and likely could relate to having a larger-than-life figure cast a shadow. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Barbara Bain as Gran. Ms. Bain rose to fame as Cinnamon Carter in the 1960’s TV series “Mission: Impossible”. She’s now 89 years old and still working! Sofia Coppola has delivered yet another film that’s interesting and provides terrific conversation after watching.

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ETERNAL BEAUTY (2020)

October 1, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. There is an odd line early on in which the psychologist says, “Don’t fight depression. Make friends with it.” What makes this an odd line is that Jane is a paranoid schizophrenic, and depression doesn’t seem to be a driving force in her life. Craig Roberts wrote and directed the film (his second feature as director). You might know Mr. Roberts as an actor. He played the lead in SUBMARINE (2010). His approach as a filmmaker is one that keeps the audience off-balance; in fact, we can simply state this one is weird.

Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER, 2017) plays Jane. She lives on her own thanks to medication. Her family is present, though not especially supportive. A flashback takes us to Jane’s wedding day where a younger Jane is played by Morfydd Clark (THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, 2020). Jane is spurned on her wedding day by her husband-to-be, and it pushes her over the edge emotionally and mentally.

An early scene gives us a peek at current day Jane. She brings wrapped Christmas presents to her parents’ house, and promptly hands over the receipts to each family member. She purchased her own gifts, acts surprised and grateful as she opens them, and expects her parents and sisters to repay her for the gifts. It’s quite a scene.

We follow Jane through her days as she seems to drift in and out of awareness and reality. She periodically hears her phone ring, and by answering she hears the voice of her former fiancé. The red phones match the phone she was on during her last conversation with him on her wedding day. It’s her most painful and visceral memory, and one that Jane can’t seem to overcome.

Relationships between the parents and the sisters are quite something to behold. Penelope Wilton (THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, 2011) is the mother prone to cruelty and confusion, whereas the father (Robert Pugh, MASTER AND COMMANDER) nearly fades into the wallpaper, though seems more empathetic. Jane’s sisters Nicola and Alice are played by Billie Piper (“Penny Dreadful”) and Alice Lowe (GET DUKED!, 2020). Nicola envies Jane’s ability to collect free money (disability), while Alice is estranged from their mother, and claims her “normal” life is boring.

When Mike (David Thewlis from Charlie Kaufman’s latest, I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS) enters the picture, it’s like a jolt of electricity from touching the wrong wire. Mike is somehow stranger than Jane, yet they manage to connect. As an example of the film’s odd dialogue, when Jane asks Mike how things are going, he responds, “Things were looking up for a few weeks, a couple years back.” That’s the type of exchange we deal with throughout, and it takes an inordinate amount of energy to process what we see and hear.

One shot from cinematographer Kit Fraser is a particular standout. It comes from inside a microwave, replete with rotisserie base and Jane’s face peering through the glass. There are numerous moments we’ve not previously seen or heard in movies … like the doctor clarifying if the patient is “fine or good”. Ms. Hawkins delivers another strange, but affecting performance … something she has mastered over the years. She always makes the character hers, and makes us care about her. An added bonus is hearing Ricky Nelson sing “I Will Follow You” … slightly more soothing than David Thewlis’ frantic electric guitar performance. It seems certain that filmmaker Roberts agrees that normal is boring, and he ensures his film and characters are not.

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KAJILLIONAIRE (2020)

September 24, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. A single month with new releases from both Charlie Kaufman (I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS) and Miranda July, is almost enough to make this movie lover forget for a moment that we are suffering through a global pandemic, raging forest fires, and the most obscene presidential campaign of my lifetime. Ms. July is an absurdly talented writer and filmmaker, and it’s her first feature length film since THE FUTURE (2011). Prior to that, she served up ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (2005), and has a unique way of displaying her strange life observations. She and Kaufman are masters of quirk, and excel in twisting our minds.

Evan Rachel Wood stars as Old Dolio Dyne, daughter of Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (an unrecognizable Debra Winger). This is an oddball family of petty crime con artists who live in a run down, unused office next to the Bubbles, Inc. factory. And yes, they make bubbles in the factory … bubbles that seep through the walls into the office where this family sleeps. One of their scams is on the landlord (a surreal character himself) who has to explain to an always-negotiating Robert that “rent is an installment”.

The first part of the film allows us to get to know the family members. We see them pull off stealing mail from a neighboring post office box, and returning stolen goods for the reward. Ms. Wood stays attired in an oversized green track suit jacket, and has lowered her speaking voice by an octave, adding impact to her monotone liners. She’s socially awkward, and likely on the spectrum as she seems to be the smartest of the bunch. Daddy Robert is a control freak and has an emotional disability in regards to California earthquake tremors. He and Theresa show no signs of affection towards each other or Old Dolio.

An airline baggage scam results in the family meeting Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an eager to join the grifters woman, whom Old Dolio sees as her replacement as both a daughter and partner. Jealousy ensues. Melanie is contrasted to Old Dolio by her bubbly personality, and by a wardrobe that is significantly more revealing than a tattered track suit. Old Dolio watches uneasily as Melanie is soon receiving the attention from Robert and Theresa that their own daughter craves.

The second half evolves into a film not so much about cons or heists (the film admits it’s no OCEANS 11), as about family dynamics. The twists and turns find Melanie helping Old Dolio break free of parental over-control in order to experience independence … and pancakes. Learning about warmth and affection from “normal” families is eye-opening for her, and sometimes a little confusing for us to follow.  Who is scamming whom, and when are they telling the truth?

Miranda July has created a crime-drama-comedy (dark comedy), with plenty of space to let the characters and dialogue breathe. “I’m Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton kicks in periodically, and the score from Emile Mosseri (THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO) complements it well. On the heels of last year’s team of family scamsters in PARASITE, this shaggy group has never met a swindle they wouldn’t try. And they never expected it to backfire with their own daughter. The divide between those who like the film and those who don’t was pretty clear after Sundance, and Miranda July will likely never be one to appeal to the masses. But for those of us who connect with her oddball way of seeing life, we appreciate the focus on what makes a family of outsiders click … especially when a superb performance from Evan Rachel Wood drives the film.

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I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

September 3, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We should never look to Charlie Kaufman to pull us out of the pandemic doldrums, although he is an absurdly talented writer who specializes in unusual plots and oddball characters. Mr. Kaufman is also an over-thinker and a non-stop thinker – I would imagine his brain rarely goes quiet. This time out, he directs his own adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel, and the result is a mind and time bending existential crisis that leaves us feeling a bit down. Yet, as always, Kaufman’s work keeps our minds racing.

Jessie Buckley, who was so terrific in WILD ROSE (2019), stars as The Young Woman going on a blizzardy road trip with Jake (Jesse Plemons, THE IRISHMAN, 2019), her boyfriend of the last six weeks or so. They are headed to visit Jake’s parents who live in a “farmy” and remote area. Act 1 is spent in the car as the wipers flap, and the woman and Jake hold awkward conversation. We, as the audience, listen to her inner thoughts, including, “I’m thinking of ending things.” She is truly an outstanding actress, and carries much of the weight with this one.

The woman is not really unnamed, in fact, throughout the movie, she has multiple names including Lucy and Louisa. And character names aren’t the only fluid piece of Kaufman’s puzzle. She is variously labeled as studying Quantum Physics, a writer of poetry, and an artist. Are you confused yet?  If not, you will be.

Act 2 takes place at the farm house where Jake’s parents live, and it shifts the film from awkward to bizarre. Toni Collette (HEREDITARY, 2018) and David Thewlis (“Fargo”) play his mother and father, both excited for the visit, but unconventional, to say the least, in their social graces. Ms. Collette over-laughs just beyond the point of perplexing and nudges the beginning of downright weird. She and Thewlis are exceptional in their ability to keep Lucy off-balance, and Jake hyper-annoyed. We aren’t sure what to make of what we are seeing … and neither is Lucy. While none of these folks takes a single bite of the dinner spread, the tone turns to surreal. Overlapping time lines of past, present, and future become haunting and hypnotic.

The film itself is disorienting, and Act 3 does little to help us regain our equilibrium. Jake and Lucy finally start their drive back, as the snow begins falling even harder. Throughout the production, Kaufman includes references to William Wordsworth, Pauline Kael, Andrew Wyeth, Mussolini, and more. He also inserts clips of a high school janitor (played by Gus Boyd) as he goes about his duties. This janitor is part of a finale featuring an animated pig and a dance number … both of which occur after Jake and Lucy have debated the importance of Cassevetes’ A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, and the performance of Gena Rowlands.

Oklahoma plays a role as both a setting and a reference musical, and a stop for ice cream at Tulsey Town, adds to the oddity and the feeling of dread that encompasses us for much of the movie (when we aren’t chuckling at the absurdities). Kaufman mixes genres with glee – horror, comedy, and psychological thriller all lead us to a dance scene and many unanswered questions about what is real and what is only in Lucy’s mind. We never see what attracted these two to each other, but we do wallow in their misery and discomfort. Charlie Kaufman’s previous screenplays include such brilliance as ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and ADAPTATION, although this one may have more in common with his SYNECHDOCE, NEW YORK – a film that can wrestle with this one over which is his least accessible. An existential film where past, present, and future mingle and bizarre observations are made on aging and memory, can only fit into Charlie Kaufman’s oeuvre. It will surely make you think, though it may end with you asking ‘why?’

Netflix September 4

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THE ARGUMENT (2020)

September 3, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Couples argue. Some more often and more boisterous than others. Things get ugly when friends and other outsiders are drawn into the arguments, which is exactly what we witness (in exaggerated form) with this film from director Robert Schwartzman and writer Zac Stanford (THE CHUMSCRUBBER, 2005). Schwartzman is also a musician and composer, and is the son of ROCKY actress Talia Shire, and the younger brother of actor Jason Schwartzman (MOONRISE KINGDOM, 2012).

Lisa (Emma Bell, A QUIET PASSION, 2016) has just finished her first acting gig (other than a cameo in her husband’s film) in a stage production of Mozart. Her husband Jack (Dan Fogler, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM) is simultaneously happy for her and insecure. His insecurity stems from his lack of success as a writer, and his suspicion, bordering on jealousy, of Lisa and her co-star Paul (Tyler James Williams, “Everybody Hates Chris”). The film picks up at the intimate after-party at Lisa and Jack’s home. It’s here where we meet Paul and his friend Trina (Cleopatra Coleman, “The Last Man on Earth”), and married couple Brett (Danny Pudi, “Community”) and Sarah (Maggie Q, “Nikita”). Brett is Jack’s literary agent, and he’s about as successful as an agent as Jack is as a writer. Sarah is an Entertainment Lawyer, who is as bored with the party as she was with Lisa’s play … she just wants to go home and sleep.

The party ends abruptly when Jack and Lisa get into a fierce argument. Alone in the house, neither accepts the blame, so of course, it escalates. The unconventional solution reached is to recreate the sequence of events with the same people saying and doing the same things they said and did that first night. Then they do it again. And again. A montage of do-overs causes us to lose track of just how many times these poor people re-live a forgettable and unpleasant evening.

A tonal shift occurs when Jack “casts” the party with actors, while still inviting the same friends to watch. Rather than exaggerated relationship issues, we get an exaggerated look at actors finding their characters … characters who happen to be sitting in the same room! This jolt of fresh faces transforms the film from quirky to slapstick, and it’s quite likely you’ll enjoy one segment more than the others. The “new” actors bring their own comedic style to the roles: an amped up Mark Ryder (“Borgia”) as Jack, actor-within-an-actor Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (“Misfits”) as Paul, a subdued Karan Brar (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID) as Brett, a willing Charlotte McKinney (FANTASY ISLAND) as Lisa, and Marielle Scott (LADY BIRD) as Trina.

The do-overs are a creative approach in attempting to solve the argument, but this movie is at its best, not in deep psychological analysis of relationships, but rather in the simple comedy elements on display. Relax and take it for what it is … a way to laugh at the problems of others without feeling an ounce of guilt. Just please don’t throw the pie.

In theatres and On Demand September 4, 2020

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THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (2020)

August 27, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. One need not be a Dickens expert to enjoy this re-imagining of his “The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)”. Yes, that’s the novel’s actual title, so there is little wonder it’s typically referred to by only the main character’s name.

The film opens with David Copperfield (Dev Patel, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) reading his autobiography to a mesmerized audience in a beautiful theatre. Yes, we hear the iconic opening line, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life …”, and then Copperfield turns and walks into the backdrop which comes alive as he, in fact, steps into his own life. The film is episodic in structure as we are presented with segments of Copperfield’s life that shaped his writing – from his birth at The Rookery, to his inquisitive nature as a young boy, through his cruel banishment to factory work, on to his life living with his eccentric aunt and his time at boarding school, and finally, with his time as a proctor, courting Dora, and focusing on writing. It’s a fascinating life, with many elements pulled (or enhanced) from Dickens’ own.

Director Armando Iannucci (IN THE LOOP, creator of “Veep”) and co-writer Simon Blackwell are frequent collaborators renowned for their expertise in satire. Iannucci is an admitted fan and student of Dickens, and he’s assembled quite a sterling cast for his take on the classic story. In addition to Patel as the older Copperfield, we have Jairaj Varsani in his first film as young David, rising star Morfydd Clark (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, 2015) in dual roles including the enchanting Dora Spenlow, Hugh Laurie as the King Charles (and his head) obsessed Mr. Dick, Aneurin Barnard (DUNKIRK) as David’s friend Steerforth, Darren Boyd and Gwendoline Christie as the wicked Murdstones, Peter Capaldi (“Doctor Who”) as the dodgy Mr. Micawber, Daisy May Cooper as trusted handmaid Peggotty, Nikki Amuka-Bird as the concerned Mrs. Steerforth, Benedict Wong as the sherry-loving Mr. Wickfield, and Ben Whishaw is a standout as conniving Uriah Heep. And if somehow that’s not enough, the brilliant and eclectic Tilda Swinton shines as Aunt Betsey Trotwood.

Each of the segments brings something different to the party – some of it bleak, and some of it cheery. Of course the dialogue has dashes of humor, but much of the comedy comes courtesy of the talented cast. It’s been said of writers that they should write what they know, and David Copperfield literally writes what he lives … through piles of scraps of paper, each holding a moment of life or the essence of a character. Watching this is a bit like camping out in a writer’s head and twisting through their thoughts … Mr. Dickens would be proud.

Opens wide in theaters on August 28, 2020

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GET DUKED! (2020)

August 27, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. In this time of pandemic, we may not yet have a cure for the virus, but music video director Ninian Doff serves up his first feature film as a vaccine for those who have been stuck in the house for too long. It’s really a mash-up of comedy-horror-thriller-buddy film, with a dash or two of hip-hop and social satire. Mr. Doff also wrote the screenplay, and the film originally played SXSW under the title, “Boyz in the Wood.”

Three friends/delinquents from school are on the verge of expulsion, and their punishment is being sent on the Duke of Edinburg adventure, a program established in 1956 with the objective of getting kids out of the city and into the country. Dean Gibson (played by Rian Gordon) is the leader of the trio, while DJ Beatroot (Viraj Duneja) dreams of becoming a star hip-hop artist, and Duncan (Lewis Gribben) mostly creates chaos at every turn. They are joined on the trip by their personality opposite, Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a home-schooled boy who actually volunteered for the trip in hopes of padding his university application.

The Scottish Highlands serve as the life-sized game board where the boys take their wilderness trek. Substitute teacher Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris) hands them a map and takes a picture of the group in front of a bulletin board filled with missing kid flyers. That’s just a taste of the humor that awaits. Ian is the only one treating the journey seriously, while the other three are wise-cracking, experimenting with drugs, and putting up with DJ Beatroot’s meanderings about his music “career”. At first, the boys are oblivious to the fact that they are being stalked (or hunted) by a couple of elites played by the always entertaining Eddie Izzard as The Duke, and his partner in crime (literally), Georgie Glen as The Duchess.

Simultaneous to this Highlands’ action, we are treated to a look inside the police station where Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie) and PC Hamish (Kevin Guthrie) generate some laughs with their excitement over hip-hop terrorist zombies in their area. They find this significantly more intriguing than “the bread thief” which was previously the number one crime to solve. At times, it’s difficult to know which group is the most talented at bumbling – the boys, the rich hunters, or the police.

The Duke of Edinburg award is earned by combining “Teamwork, Orienteering, and Foraging.” For this group of boys, it also involves drugs, hip-hop, and staying alive. Director Doff infuses a zany absurdity to the action, and with some of the set ups, he perhaps could have even gone further – although the bits on rabbit pellets and a fork as a weapon are to be admired. One of the songs drags on a bit too long, but mostly the creativity is fun to watch, as is the collision of teenage group dynamics, the generational clash, and the social commentary. The film is in the mode of some of Edgar Wright’s best work, so if that’s your style, you’ll find this a treat.

Available August 28, 2020 on Amazon Prime

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THE SUNLIT NIGHT (2020)

July 16, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The journey to find one’s self is not unique to artists, but for some reason, it’s more cinematically appealing when an artist is involved. In this quirky film from director David Wnendt, with a screenplay Rebecca Dinerstein Knight adapted from her own novel, artists (of varying types) are everywhere. Of course finding one’s self usually involves making peace with this quagmire we call life.

Frances (Jenny Slate, OBVIOUS CHILD, 2014) watches as three snooty art critics denigrate her latest work to the point of humiliation. Her long-time boyfriend dumps her, and she returns home to her parents, both artists. Instead of sympathy from the family, she’s bombarded with news that her sister Gaby (Elise Kibler) is engaged to a man her father loathes, and to top off the family dinner, her parents (Jessica Hecht, David Paymer) announce they are separating. Rather than deal with any of this head-on, Frances accepts an apprenticeship with an artist in north Norway. “Norway, Norway”. Where the sun never sets.

Nils (Fridtjov Saheim) is the personality opposite to talkative, upbeat Frances. He grumps around while escorting her to the trailer she’ll stay in for the summer. The project, seemingly uninspiring, is to paint a local dilapidated barn yellow – inside and out. Nils is under a tight deadline to finish the barn so it (and he) can earn a spot on the map of cultural sites. Close by is a Viking museum and community, where the folks, led by their Chief (Zach Galifianakis), re-create Viking life for tourists (or mostly themselves).

One day Yasha (Alex Sharp, HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES, 2017) shows up. He’s arranging a ceremonial Viking funeral for his beloved father (Olek Krupa). Father and son worked together daily in their bakery and developed a close bond. Sasha’s mother (Gillian Anderson), who left them years ago, unexpectedly shows up for the funeral, hoping to lure him to live with her.

Frances compares everyone she meets to subjects in famous works of art. It’s her way of connecting art to the real world, as well as helping her find a place for people in her world of art. Frances and Yasha are drawn together in their search for direction and meaning, and we are led to believe this connection, no matter how brief or random their crossing of paths might be, helps her in her personal quest.

The cinematography from Martin Ahlgren captures this rarely seen top-of-the-world wonderland, and the landscape is truly something to behold. Ms. Slate is once again top notch in her role. She’s likable and relatable, traits some actors struggle with, but which apparently come natural to her. And while we expect lives to be messy and complicated, we hope for a bit more from our movies. Frances’ home life is drawn straight out of a TV sitcom, and the whole Viking village never really makes sense. It seems Frances is short-changed on all of her relationships here, yet the trip still manages to help her discover something in her art. And that’s just about how life works – really messy right up until something clicks, and then back to messy.

Available on VOD July 17, 2020

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