Paradox

(USA 2018)

“Love is like a fart: If you gotta force it, it’s probably shit.”

— One of the cowboys

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One of its posters calls Daryl Hannah’s trippy-lite Paradox “a loud poem,” which I reckon is an accurate enough way to look at it. This is not a particularly noisy film, though, so I don’t know that “loud” is the right word. Anyway…

Set sometime in the near future, Paradox is a dystopian post-apocalyptic Western sci-fi musical comedy with a whiff of magic realism. Got that? The story, if you call it one, involves archeologist cowboys, a rock and roller sage known only as The Man in the Black Hat (Neil Young), and a not-so-merry band of feminist environmentalist survivalists.

Young sits in a chair in a field strumming his guitar while a crew consisting of his bandmates digs through dirt and rock looking for relics, mostly electronic devices used for communication — a phone, a fax machine, I may have seen a radio as well. At night, Young plays with his band, Promise of the Real, which includes Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. There’s this thing they do where they hold onto a rope as they rise into the air.

Relatively plotless, Paradox features some beautifully cool crooning around a campfire and a cameo by Willie Nelson, who robs a seed bank with Young. If the whole thing sounds silly, it is. It’s hard to tell what Hannah is getting at here, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the redemptive power of music. To be fair, she admittedly didn’t plan this as a feature film for wide release (http://www.indiewire.com/2018/03/daryl-hannah-interview-netflix-paradox-sxsw-2018-1201939587/).

I didn’t mind Paradox, but it’s not the kind of thing that begs for a mainstream audience. I can see a lot of people bored with it — or worse, hating it.

With Corey McCormick, Anthony LoGerfo, Tato Melgar, Elliot Roberts, Dave Snowbear Toms, Charris Ford, Robert Schmoo Schmid, Tim Gooch Lougee, Dulcie Clarkson Ford, Alexandra, Dascala, Hillary Cooper, Jess Rice, Sue Mazzoni, Dana Fineman, Hilary Shepard, Page Adler, Alyssa Miller, Hayley DuMond, Barbara Adler, Jessica James, Maia Coe, Haskins Khalil, Light Kentucky, River Ben Ford, Wes James, Ava James, Ace Adler, Phoenix Fuller, Thelonius True Heart, Skookum River, Blythe Ford, Dave Doubek, Doug Alee

Production: Shakey Pictures

Distribution: Abramorama, Netflix

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Daryl Hannah, Neil Young, Elliot Rabinowitz, and two other men (one may have been Corey McCormick but I’m not sure)

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73 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) C-

https://www.netflix.com/title/80242378

Angel Unchained [Hell’s Angels Unchained]

(USA 1970)

“Stay? What does ‘stay’ mean?”

— Angel

Lee Madden’s Angel Unchained is the type of ’70s movie that you would see on late night TV during the ’70s. A low budget grindhouse exploitation revenge flick, this one involves bikers and hippies and hicks, oh my. If the title isn’t obvious, Angel Unchained is a prime example of the kind of film that influenced none other than Quentin Tarantino.

After saving leader of the pack Pilot (Larry Bishop) during a bizarre rumble at a children’s amusement park, dumpy bodied restless spirit Angel (Don Stroud) decides to break from his gang of bikers and go his own way. While getting gas somewhere in the Arizona desert, he observes a group of redneck townies hassle a couple of hippies, one of whom is sweet Merilee (a young and soft Tyne Daly). Angel sticks up for the hippies.

He and Merilee are digging each other. She invites him to her farming commune, which is led by Southern buck Jonathan Tremaine (Luke Askew). They live off the land in a remote spot just outside some desert hicktown. The redneck townies don’t care for the hippies, which they make known by driving dune buggies through the hippies’ garden, messing with their livestock, and physically pummelling them. Angel stabs one, head honcho hillbilly Dave (Peter Lawrence), in the arm with a pitchfork as he speeds past him.

After that, Dave gives them all an ultimatum: leave by Saturday, or his posse of rednecks is going to wreak havoc on the commune. This frightens the hippies.

Angel calls on his old gang to save the farm, literally. He persuades Pilot, who grudgingly gets the guys on board. They head out to stay there for a week. Not surprisingly, the bikers clash with the hippies, starting with their diet of alphalpha. Things go south fast: the bikers drink, hit on the ladies, and generally make a mess. The last straw is stealing the batch of cookies — the vague implication is that they’re laced with drugs, probably pot or peyote — that an elderly medicine man (Pedro Regas) bakes in a hut.

Loaded with chases in “vee-hicles,” fistfights, and a good mix of dramatic tension and humor, Angel Unchained isn’t the worst thing. It’s got an odd charm to it, with the desert setting and the fringe dwellers of a long gone era battling the philistines of an even longer gone era. It has a few memorable scenes, such as a brilliantly kooky one in which Pilot has a nice, nothing chat with the sheriff (Aldo Ray) outside the jailhouse. As they talk, they nonchalantly watch the the bikers and the townies beat the crap out of each other in the parking lot in front of them. Another sad scene occurs right after a rape — again, it’s vaguely implied but you know what just happened.

Still, Angel Unchained is pretty silly; its earnestness makes it even moreso. If it has anything to say, it’s exactly what Rodney King would utter 20 years later: “Can we all just get along?” A nice sentiment for sure, but it doesn’t make up for the strained, amateur acting or the monotonous folky (and folksy) score by Randy Sparks.

With T. Max Graham, Jean Marie, Bill McKinney, Jordan Rhodes, Linda Smith, Nita Michaels, J. Cosgrove Butchie, T.C. Ryan, Alan Gibbs, Bud Ekins, Jerry Randall

Production: American International Pictures (AIP)

Distribution: American International Pictures (AIP) (USA), Anglo-EMI Film Distributors (UK), MGM-EMI (UK), Film AB Corona (Sweden)

86 minutes
Rated PG

(Impact) C-

Castro Street (The Coming of Consciousness)

(USA 1966)

Bruce Baillie’s experimental short film Castro Street has nothing to do with San Francisco. It has no plot, no dialogue, and no characters — unless you count the machines, silhouettes of workers, numbers, words, ads, colors, and sounds that wander in and out the frame like a stream of consciousness. The point is to convey a certain mood through visual and sonic elements.

It works. Dominated by shifting shades of red and blue superimposed over black and white, a drab industrial bleakness emerges from the constantly moving images and noises of oil refining machinery and trains. Suddenly, a welcome bit of nature comes into a view: a field of grass. Toward the end, a familiar pop song that I can’t place is trying to break out of all the noise. I looked it up: “Good Lovin'” by the Rascals.

Overall, Castro Street is not particularly exciting — but it’s pretty.

In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed Castro Street (The Coming of Consciousness) “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

Production: Canyon Cinema

Distribution:

11 minutes
Not rated

(Daily Motion) C-

 

Four Letter Words

(USA 2000)

With The Florida Project (https://moviebloke.com/2017/10/03/the-florida-project/), Sean Baker sparked my curiosity in his work. Big time. Sure, I heard of him and caught an earlier film, Tangerine (https://moviebloke.com/2015/07/28/tangerine/), before that. Now, though, I’m practically obsessed with seeing what else he’s done, more than any other director in recent memory. For my latest foray into Baker, I went back to Four Letter Words, his first feature film.

Truly a show about nothing, Four Letter Words takes place at the end of a house party in suburban Los Angeles. It’s 3:30 a.m. Art (Fred Berman), who’s in his second or third year of college —  and on his third or fourth major — is home from school and threw a get-together at his parents’ house, inviting his BFFs from high school. It’s clear that it’s time for everyone to go but he doesn’t want to be alone.

Baker’s style is very much ‘90s DIY. Four Letter Words feels a lot like early Richard Linklater or Kevin Smith, loaded with naturalistic dialogue and rants mostly about sex, slacker characters, dumb antics, and mundane events that transpire over the course of an hour or so.

Baker explores the outlook of suburban men in their 20s. Four Letter Words isn’t revolutionary or terribly insightful. It’s neither a major work nor required viewing, but it’s mildly interesting because it shows what draws him in.

With David Ari, Henry Beylin, Darcy Bledsoe, Edward Coyne, Matthew Dawson, Thomas Donnarumma, Loren Ecker, Karren Karagulian, Robyn Parsons, David Prete, Matthew Maher, Vincent Radwinsky, Susan Stanley, Jay Thames, Artyom Trubnikov, Paul Weissman

Production: Vanguard

Distribution: littlefilms

82 minutes
Not rated

(DVD purchase) C-

http://www.littlefilms.com/home.htm

Suburbicon

(USA 2017)

George Clooney’s Suburbicon probably isn’t going to end up on anyone’s “best” list, nor should it. Too bad, because it’s got all the right elements: an experienced director with a strong point of view and his heart in the right place, a story by Joel and Ethan Coen, and a solid cast. The trailer sold me.

I guess I can see where this was headed. Unfortunately, though, some bizarre calls from the director’s chair drive Suburbicon into the ground. What could’ve been a biting and clever comment about race and the postwar American Dream, isn’t. Instead, Suburbicon is a confused jumble of ideas that don’t seem thought out or placed very well.

Suburbicon, which gets its name from the fictional suburban housing development where the film takes place, involves two concurrent stories that play out separately in late ‘50s suburbia. The main story, the one that the Coen brothers developed over 30 years ago, follows the boneheaded attempts of daft Suburbicon resident Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) at covering his tracks in an insurance scam he perpetrates with his sister-in-law, Margaret (Julianne Moore, who pulls a Patty Duke and does double duty also playing Gardner’s wife, Rose). Gardner is also dodging two amateur hitmen (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) who are trying to reach him. To make matters worse, his grade school age son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), inadvertently threatens to blow his cover. It isn’t long before it’s clear that Gardner’s in way over his head.

Meanwhile, the Mayers, a black family, move into Suburbicon, right next door to the Lodges. This subplot is based on an actual event that happened in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957 (http://ushistoryscene.com/article/levittown/). In fact, the film uses what appears to be real-life footage from it. The residents don’t want a black family living near them, apparently because they think it will cause the neighborhood to go to hell. So, they stage a protest outside the Mayers’ house, chanting, playing instruments all night, and eventually trespassing and vandalizing. In the midst of this brouhaha, Nicky befriends the son, Andy (Tony Espinosa), who’s about the same age.

The residents get louder and more violent as the Coen plot develops into something darker and more violent.

Suburbicon has a few big problems. First, it clearly wants to make a grand statement or observation. It fails because it doesn’t integrate the two plots. We don’t get much about the Mayers. Whatever point this subplot was supposed to make is completely overshadowed by the main plot, and it comes off as merely an ironic parallel. It’s weird, manipulative, and simply doesn’t work.

Second, I have no idea how all that happens inside the Lodge residence does so with the huge mob next door. How does no one notice what’s going on right outside the door? How does everyone in that huge mob miss the people coming and going from the Lodge residence? Some of them are bloody. Hello?

Third, the plot twists are evident a mile away.

Fourth, neither Damon nor Moore pulls off the sinister vibe their characters call for. Somehow Clooney misses the mark on the sheer weirdness of the plot and the characters despite the sharp, exaggerated dialogue you usually get from the Coen brothers. Oscar Isaac is the only actor who nails it; his small part as an insurance investigator, regrettably short, stands out as the only bright spot here — although both Jupe and Nancy Daly as Gardner’s secretary deserve an honorable mention. Overall, though, the end result here is hopelessly flat and surprisingly lifeless. It’s frustrating to see.

I didn’t hate Suburbicon, but I didn’t love it. Its points are muddled. I expected a lot more, and there was so much to work with here.

With Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke, Megan Ferguson, Jack Conley, Gary Basaraba, Michael D. Cohen, Steven Shaw, Don Baldaramos, Ellen Crawford, Cathy Giannone, Allan Wasserman, Mark Leslie Ford, Richard Kind, Robert Pierce, Pamela Dunlap, Jack Conley, Frank Califano, Lauren Burns

Production: Paramount Pictures, Black Bear Pictures, Silver Pictures, Smoke House Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

105 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C-

http://www.suburbiconmovie.com

They

(USA / Qatar 2017)

“You’ll never be a girl. You’re not a boy. So you’re probably nothing.”

— J

Writer/director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s debut feature film They delicately tells the story of J (Rhys Fehrenbacher), a quiet suburban Chicago teen transitioning from male to female. Along with therapy sessions and physician consultations for “puberty blocking” drugs and “bone density” test results, J is processing the social and psychological implications of their change. We know it’s happening, but we see it in action when J puts on a dress and goes outside, or when he explains to others how to make an introduction to a stranger and which pronoun to use (“they,” hence the title).

The process is awkward, particularly when older sister, Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), brings her fiancé, Araz (Koohyar Hosseini), home to meet the family. With mom (Norma Moruzzi) away caring for an aunt who has early onset dimentia, J is left to deal alone. Meeting Araz’s Iranian family in the suburbs seems to be a reckoning for J.

If nothing else, They is visually arresting, artfully shot with georgeous pans and closeups of buildings, walls, plants, and flowers. Ghazvinizadeh plays with reflections on glass and uses a muted color pallet that nicely underscores J’s fluid state of mind. It sets just the right tone: hazy and dreamy.

That said, both the narrative and the character development in They fall short. I’m not sure Lauren and Azaz are necessary, and I certainly don’t have more than a passing sense of who they are or why they’re here. The dinner at Araz’s family is dropped in clumsily, throwing off the trajectory of the story. The focus gradually and inexplicably shifts away from J, which I found strange.

Watching They feels voyeuristic, which isn’t a bad thing in itself. However, it feels like an obstacle — a transparent partition — keeps me from getting too close to the characters. That’s a shame because this is a film that demands an amount of intimacy that simply isn’t accommodated. On top of that, the actors’ naturalistic performances meander quite a bit, which made me zone out at times.

Overall, They could have been a much more powerful statement. Still, it’s a decent effort even with its shortcomings and a few dull parts.

With Diana Torres, Evan Gray, Drew Sheil, Leyla Mofleh, Mohammad Aghebati, Alma Sinai, Arian Naghshineh, Ava Naghshineh, Aerik Jahangiri, Farid Kossari, Kaveh Ehsani, Robert Garofalo, Eric Fehrenbacher, Vicki Sheil

Production: Mass Ornament Films

Distribution: N/A

Screening introduced by Anahita Ghazvinizadeh and followed by a live Q and A with Ghazvinizadeh, Rhys Fehrenbacher, and Rob Garofalo

80 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) C-

Chicago International Film Festival

https://www.massornament.com/they

Tales from the Hood

(USA 1995)

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Rusty Cundieff’s anthology Tales from the Hood is a good idea: four vignettes of black life presented as horror stories — so, a horror flick with a message, more commentary than a “scary movie.” I see why Spike Lee attached his name to it (as executive producer).

Cundieff and cowriter Darin Scott pick material topics that still resonate more than 20 years later: racism, police brutality, domestic abuse, drugs, and black-on-black violence. The messages are strong, but unfortunately the writing always isn’t.

The best segment is “Hard Core Convert,” which is also the closer. Jerome a.k.a. Crazy K (Lamont Bentley) is a drug dealer shot in a gang hit. He wakes up in a Kafkaesue prison, where a stern nurse (Lira Angel) subjects him to rehabilitation methods straight from A Clockwork Orange. This particular piece and the way it’s executed are both powerful and memorable.

The second segment, “Boys Do Get Bruised,” takes on domestic abuse. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. The other two segments, “Rogue Cop Revelation” and “KKK Comeuppance,” fall flat.

Tales from the Hood targets the right notes, but it misses many of them. For one thing, the approach here is really heavy-handed. Plus, the impact is diluted by the silly bit that frames the stories: a funeral home in South Central Los Angeles run by weirdo Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). He tells the four stories to three “gangstas,” Ball (De’aundre Bonds), Bulldog (Samuel Monroe Jr.), and Stack (Joe Torry), who stumble into the home looking for drugs. I could have done without this device — it served as a distraction more than anything.

With Wings Hauser, Tom Wright, Anthony Griffith, Michael Massee, Duane Whitaker, David Alan Grier, Brandon Hammond, Rusty Cundieff, Paula Jai Parker, Corbin Bernsen, Roger Guenveur Smith, Art Evans, Rosalind Cash, Chris Edwards , Troy Cartwright, Brenden Jefferson, Tim Hutchinson, John A. Cundieff, Bobby McGee, Christina Cundieff, Ricky Harris, Darin Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Scotty Brulee, Ryan Williams, Kamau Holloway, Tasha Johnson

Production: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks

Distribution: Savoy Pictures Entertainment

98 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) C-

Music Box of Horrors

Best in Show

(USA 2000)

“We met at Starbucks. Not at the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other.”

— Meg Swan

I’m an enthusiastic fan of sharp, quirky humor; the more biting, the better. I love stuff like Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Strangers with Candy, The Office, Little Britain, and of course Christopher Guest’s This is Spinal Tap, one of my favorite not to mention most quoted films.

Best in Show, another “mockumentary” like the ones Guest has become known for, is right up my alley. It pokes fun at a culture many no doubt find strange: dog shows. Woof!

Best in Show follows five canines and their owners as they prepare for and travel to a dog competition, the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show — that title is perfect! — in Philadelphia. The characters are awesome and the situations they get into are fun. The cast, which includes then-minor stars like Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge who would go on to bigger things, is stellar. Guest and Eugene Levy’s screenplay is deliciously mean. This is all good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. I saw Best in Show a long while back, but this time it just didn’t strike me as funny as I remember it. I don’t know what it was — I had a long week and I had to travel the next morning, so maybe that explains why I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was the martinis. One of these days, I’ll give Best in Show another chance to redeem itself.

With Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Jay Brazeau, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Michael Hitchcock, Christopher Guest, Ed Begley Jr., Beatrice the Weimaraner, Winky the Norwich Terrier, Hubert the Bloodhound, Miss Agnes the Shih Tzu, Tyrone the Shih Tzu, Rhapsody in White the Standard Poodle

Production: Castle Rock Entertainment

Distribution: Warner Brothers

90 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) C-

Dough

(UK/Hungary 2016)

“Race and religion are irrelevant. If you’re a dickhead, you’re a dickhead.”

—Joanna

I don’t usually bother with “feel good” movies, which tend to be vapid, cheesy affairs. The basic plot summary of Dough caught my attention. Although it teeters dangerously close to full-on “feel good,” to its credit it doesn’t go all the way. Exhale. Still, not great.

Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) has owned and single-handedly operated a Jewish bakery in London. It’s a family business that’s lasted for generations but has definitely seen better days. Nat’s livelihood is threatened by a grocery chain that wants to buy him out. The way things are going, the offer looks like the only way to stay above water.

Enter 20-ish African immgrant Ayyash Habimana (Jerome Holder), a Muslim who recently relocated to the neighborhood. Nat hires him to help bake, not realizing…well, that he gets baked. Like, smoking weed. Ganja. Marijuana. Somehow, Ayyash starts churning out muffins that sell like hotcakes.

Dough is a really cute comedy that works on many levels, at least from a narrative perspective. Director John Goldschmidt steers things in a realistic direction, showing that two disparate generational and cultural ideologies are not really all that far apart. The opening scene—at 4:00 a.m.—illustrates the parallels between Nat and Ayyash’s lives and gets Dough off to a great start. I was hooked. It looked like a winner.

Unfortunately, things go downhill fast. Dough quickly turns into amateur hour, with writing (Jez Freedman and Jonathan Benson) and acting that just doesn’t deliver on the potential here. The story is hamfisted, oversimplified, and predictable. Aside from a few sweet scenes, Dough is kind of a dud.

With Philip Davis, Ian Hart, Pauline Collins, Andrew Ellis, Malachi Kirby, Natasha Gordon, Melanie Freeman, Olivia Dayan

Production: Docler Entertainment, Three Coloured Dog Films, Docler DProd, Dough Film, Viva Films

Distribution: Menemsha Films, Margo Cinema, Rialto Distribution, Vertigo Releasing

94 minutes
Not rated

(iTunes rental) C-

https://www.menemshafilms.com/dough

Dolemite

(USA 1975)

Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore) is his name, and fuckin’ up mutha fuckas is his game!

He’s the baddest pimp around—well, around Los Angeles, anyway—and he looks every bit the part. Dolemite owns a nightclub and whorehouse but he’s doing time on a drug beef. Maybe it’s bogus, maybe not. Maybe some bad cops set him up, maybe it was archenemy Willie Green (D’Urville Martin), who took over the club and is running shit now. Either way, mother pimp Queen Bee (Lady Reed) and Dolemite’s army of ass-kickin’ kung fu hookers are none too happy about it.

To get out of the big house, Dolemite makes a deal with the po-po, Agent Blakeley (Jerry Jones), to, I think, help clean up his old hood. Dolemite uses this as an opportunity to exact revenge on Green and reclaim his, um, stature in the community.  Along the way, he kicks a lot of ass, takes on two crooked cokehead cops—Mitchell (John Kerry) and White—and gets laid. A lot. He even cuss raps at the end.

Dolemite is not a movie to see because it’s a work of art. On the contrary, it’s terrible. But that’s what makes it so much fun to watch—that’s why it’s a cult classic. Like a lot of things before the late ’80s, it’s not P.C. (i.e., politically correct)—as if that isn’t obvious from the movie poster. The directing by Martin, which probably explains why he has so little screen time, is sloppy. You can count the number of times boom mics pop in. The fight scenes are laughable—Dolemite knocks people out barely lifting a finger (or here,  leg) and sometimes without even touching them. Don’t even get me going on the martial arts stuff!

The plot is confusing and watered down. Jones wrote the screenplay with Moore, and the writing is just bad. I admit, I watched it drunk this time, but I’ve seen Dolemite before while sober. No difference. The events are scattered and at points seem random. The characters are colorful—shady Reverend Gibbs (West Gale), a possible parody of former Chicago leader Mayor Daley (Monte “Hy” Pike), the clearly trippin’ Hamburger Pimp (Vainus Rackstraw), and the many fox females—wander in and out, often without any reason.

Despite all that, Dolemite unquestionably has a charm of its own. Moore likes to rhyme, and he punctuates pretty much every sentence with “mutha FUCKA!” His crib is rent-to-own fabulous—check it out:

Dolemite set 2.jpg

Dolemite set 1.png

The wardrobe looks like it was borrowed from the Salvation Army. The climax at the nightclub goes on longer than it should but is still a showstopper. The soundtrack is a trip. If nothing else—and there is nothing else—Dolemite is a good time.

With Brenda DeLong, Terri Mosley, Marilyn Shaw, Lynell Smith, Vera Howard, Joy Martin, Jana Bisbing, Brenda Banks, Pat Haywood, René Van Clief, Pat Jones, Lola Mayo, Charlene Soulter, Liz Sample, Karolynn Hill, Dino Washington, Johnny J. Brown, Cardella Di Milo

Production: Comedian International Enterprise Productions (C.I.E.)

Distribution: Dimension Pictures, Xenon Pictures

90 minutes
Rated R

(DVD) C-

http://xenonpictures.com/wp/dolemite/

http://www.shockingimages.com/dolemite/films/dolemite.php