For my first film reviews here at the amazing Why So Blu it felt right to hit the movie review ground running, so I’m going to examine a colossal six indie films (I try to see EVERYTHING for the fans!) that are hitting select theaters, digital formats and the like all this Friday. So take a gander at the encapsulated (for your convenience!) critiques of Les Cowboys, Wiener-Dog, The Neon Demon, My Love, Don’t Cross That River, Vigilante Diaries and Misconception all below!
(Cohen Media Group)
A fascinating French take on the disappearance of a family member and the obsession that grows within those left behind. In the case of Les Cowboys it’s an ongoing mystery solving conundrum that gets passed from a frantic father (a rough and tough Francois Damiens) to a bedeviled brother (Bang Gang standout Finnegan Oldfield) with some deep, dark and extremely surprising results. The haunting tone set by Director Thomas Bidegain is consistently palpable and shows his natural knack for tense storytelling. An unneeded and distracting John C. Reilly shows up at one point as an American ‘helper’, but stunt casting aside Les Cowboys is one nail biting and suspenseful saddle ride.
(IFC Films/Amazon Studios)
Filmmaker Todd Solondz’s new outing Wiener-Dog, told with an actual wiener-dog as the connecting force, has four stories within that range from bad to badass with the least impactful being the significantly sanitized continuation of the Welcome to the Dollhouse Dawn Wiener saga. As portrayed by the normally amazing Greta Gerwig, her Dawn is hardly the engaging dork fans remember. (Where is Heather Matarazzo when you need her?!) The Danny DeVito sad sack story about a screenwriting teacher who becomes a joke to both students and colleagues doesn’t fare any better either. (Do I smell a little Solondz early screenwriting criticism payback?!) Notable though is the first tale that pits a young boy (think the naivety of Happiness’s Johnny Grasso) in candid conversation with his clever caustic mom (the wonderful Julie Delpy!) about life, death and dogs. But it’s the final segment that portrays all the perverse passions fans have come to adore from the bold writer/director. Acting as one damn fine movie muse, Ellen Burstyn’s cold Nana is the epitome of Solondz character deadpan and her segment has a ton of embarrassing laugh-out-loud moments that make one cringe for having guffawed in the first place. So with some good, some bad, but all Solondz, Wiener-Dog has both bark and bite.
THE NEON DEMON
(Broadgreen Pictures/Amazon Studios)
The latest from filmmaking auteur Nicolas Winding Refn is wondrous and visually arresting to look at, but I’d be damned to explain a cohesive plot. Taking refuge in the seedy and seductive world of modeling, Refn uses both the coldness of the profession and the tangible beauty of his young leading lady Elle Fanning as a springboard to some of the strangest and most mesmerizing visuals to date. There are both interesting performances (Jena Malone steals the movie on sheer charisma alone!) and forgettable ones (nothing says angry motel manager like…Keanu Reeves!), but for those looking for some semblance of story best to look elsewhere. The Neon Demon is a classic case of style over substance, but fortunately Refn’s style is pretty damn good.
MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER
A doc that runs the gamut of both happy and sad as filmmaker Mo-young Jin documents, fly-on-the-wall style, the latter years of a still very much in love couple who have lived together for seventy-six years. While we get to see joy in the form of their everyday life including fun (they throw leaves and snow even at their age!), sweetness (he holds her hand all the way to the outhouse…and waits for her!) and enhanced quality of life (the smiles they have for each other have no end!), there are also equal amounts of health and mortality issues that are as hard on the emotions of the audience as the family involved. In fact if there is a down side to the doc it’s that there are many moments that feel so personal and so private that their viewing as film fodder at times feels invasive and downright wrong. Learning about lives is lovely, but a long lasting relationship may be between only two people for a reason.
(Anchor Bay Entertainment)
For a flick with all the tropes of a bad B-movie action yarn, Vigilante Diaries is surprisingly solid. Director Christian Sesma pulls out the best in all avenues including action (lead man Paul Sloan could have been The Punisher!), style (tough gals Jessica Uberuage and Chasty Ballesteros put the sexy back in story!), comedy (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson made me laugh!), cameos (James Russo alert!) and character work (this is the best use of Jason Mewes since Clerks!) for a fun flick that rises above the fluff. My only issues with the film is the blending of all of the above gets a tad clunky at times (action and comedy need to be edited very carefully film fans!), but overall this diary has some saucy cinematic secrets well worth discovering.
A somewhat interesting mix of three stories involving the world’s population and overpopulation from three very different angles – a 30-year old Beijing man under family and society pressure to marry and have children, a heavy-handed Canadian conservative activist with a need to spread her word and a journalist in Uganda who has made it her personal mission to find parents and help for multitudes of lost and abandoned children. The latter story is the most powerful with a real insight into the lives and struggles of kids living in a place with the 3rd highest birth rate. The second story feels a tad preachy – even from a ‘no stance’ doc perspective – and sadly the first and most interesting leaves the audience hanging. Bottom line is any narrative feature that makes you feel like you have to – not want to, HAVE to – follow up via online literature to get the whole picture, may have a misconception of what a doc should do.
Also left over from my Dances With Films 2016 coverage I wanted to give props and a shout out to the funny, topical and very tasty new short by filmmaker Jonathan Chase titled Oh Em Gee. It’s a terrific look at one woman’s obsession with her mobile device – even in a face to face chat with God. Being a rare gent who doesn’t text (I’m old school!) I found it to be a clever short with a mighty message that I very much approve of. (Make personal connections folks!) So hats off to Jonathan – a filmmaker to watch for – and you can check out his various wares by going to www.ohemgeefilm.com.