March 26, 2017

MULTIPLE MANIACS

Multiple ManiacsThis run-up to “Pink Flamingos” shows John Waters working out transgressive themes of sexual and social perversions with his stable of regular performers, led by the incomparable Divine. “The Cavalcade of Perversion” is Divine’s warped traveling circus of perverts and drug addicts that enables her life of crime that includes having lesbian sex (involving a rosary) in a church. Who needs superheroes when you’ve got multiple maniacs?

Multiple Maniacs is the ultimate filmic and political palate cleanser. Divine can’t help but enjoy being seduced into anal play with Mink Stole (a.k.a. the religious whore) within religious walls ("Think about the stations of the cross"), but that doesn’t mean she owes her new lover any more respect than she gives any of the other people she treats like disposable fetish objects. John Waters cuts to a deeper social quick than any other American filmmaker because he understands the innate beauty of all people, regardless of how they look, much less how wild their imaginations run. “Multiple Maniacs” wallows in perversion for perversion’s sake because that’s what it’s there for. You can fight the ideas, but you can’t fight the feelings that John Waters puts out there because his respect for filth runs so deep. Dirt is good for you even when it tastes like spinach pulled from manure. “Multiple Maniacs” is dirtier than that. Get filthy.

Multiple Maniacs

Rated X. 91 mins. (A+) (Five stars out of five / no halves)


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MOTHER KUSTERS GOES TO HEAVEN

Mutter_kusters_fahrt_zum_himmelFassbinder is the German version of Lou Reed if Lou had been a German filmmaker.

Although the version of “Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven” currently being shown on FilmStruck does a fake-you-out move by spelling out, and including, two different endings, this movie presents a compelling case for autonomy of the individual. In an age when the NSA utilizes the same data that social media crunches to decide the plot of the next Hollywood movie you sit through like a hungry cat sniffing fresh tuna in the air, “Mother Kusters” puts the media, politics, and familial trust in same trash bin. Brigitte Mira’s elderly matriarch is a postfeminist every bit as complex as the outsider character she played in Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Heaven is what you make it.

MOTHER KUSTERS

Not Rated. 108 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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ALWAYS FOR PLEASURE

Always For PleasureLegendary documentarian Les Blank’s roughhewn social study soaks up New Orleans’ vibrant culture of traditions, parades, music, food, and joyful people in 1978. Learn the proper way to eat a crawfish, and dig the festive vibe in a doc that is a little bit history lesson and a lot of fun.    

Les Blank’s intuitive sense of documentary filmmaking is purely organic. His films allow for a natural symbiotic exchange to occur between the viewer and the work at hand. You can feel it happening when “Always For Pleasure” gets into the Second line musicians and partiers at a funeral procession.

Irreverent joy overflows into Blank’s wanton absorption of a melting pot made up of Black, White, European, French, Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Mexican, Appalachian, and West Indian influences. Outside of society, and yet minted within primal human instincts for shared communal experience, the Second line musicians and their followers give back all that has been taken away from most of America’s citizens. You can guess the rest, with a smile on your face.

Always For Pleasure

Not Rated. 58 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves) 

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March 22, 2017

PUNCH DRUNK LOVE

Punch Drunk LovePaul Thomas Anderson has done the impossible; he has written a romantic leading role for Adam Sandler that functions well on a dramatic level. Sandler’s on-the-spectrum character Barry Egan is a bundle of social anxiety thanks to a long history of abusive treatment by his seven sisters. He has a furious temper thanks to his sisters’ relentless bullying about a childhood episode wherein he broke a plate glass door with a hammer in response to their repeatedly calling him “gayboy.”

Note Anderson’s reference to Lina Wertmuller’s film “Seven Beauties” (1975), which follows the wartime adventures of Pasqualino (Giancarlo Gianini), a henpecked Italian dandy who murders one of his sister’s lover. Audiences can have a field day picking out Anderson’s subtle nods to films by other directors (“Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” “The Bandwagon,” and “The Graduate” for example), as well as to his own (“Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”).

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“Punch Drunk Love” is a squirmy love story about a guy with a good heart in need of romantic rescue. Anderson’s inspired casting of Emily Watson as Sandler’s savior works like a charm for a minimalist character study with a dash of magical realism. It may only be a minor chamber piece, but “Punch Drunk Love” sticks with you.  

Rated R. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves) 

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February 26, 2017

GET OUT

Get OutJordan Peele’s directorial debut isn’t as much a horror movie as it is a scathing social satire. The film is more “Stepford Wives” than it is “Rosemary’s Baby.” The shocks and scares that come at the audience are more related to taking out the garbage on Obama-bot liberals who discovered their asses hung out to dry by Hillary Clinton’s Bernie-directed skullduggery that allowed Donald Trump’s team to win over swing-voters who have also been equally duped by a data-mining system that makes America’s bologna form of democracy obsolete.

Get Out” achieves something that no other film has so eloquently done before; it gives its audience the sense of what it is to be a black adult in a country where the liberals who pretend to stand up for blacks are just as guilty of exploiting them as their racist counterparts. There are stunning moments when Peele’s dialogue strikes unmistakable targets as when this film’s villainous white patriarch (played by Bradley Whitford made up to look strikingly like David Fincher) proudly announces that he would have “voted for Obama for a third term.” Peele is the first black person I’ve heard call out Obama as the Uncle Tom his presidency represented from the first second he took office.

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While the pacing lags where it should escalate, and Peele all but abandons his film’s most fascinating aspect (the relationship between his black protagonist Chris and his white girlfriend Rose), “Get Out” is a delightful satire that knows enough to not take itself too seriously. Brain transplants give the movie an appropriately B-movie edge.

Get Out

Actor Daniel Kaluuya’s pitch-perfect performance arrives alongside Jordan Peele’s breakout as a talented filmmaker. Social satires rarely strike as cold and deep as “Get Out.” Peele’s message is clear; America is not a hospitable place for the black people it exploits from both sides. With friends like Obama-liberals, none of us need any enemies, much less the likes of the Trump administration and its legion of racist thugs. We may all need to “get out.”

Rated R. 108 mins. (B) (Three Stars — Out of five / no halves)

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February 25, 2017

KEDi

KEDICeyda Torun’s filmic love letter to the feral cats of Istanbul, and to the community of local residents they inspire, is cinematic ice cream for the soul.

Cat-level roaming photography contrasts with helicopter-views of this beautiful old port city to give audiences a visual sense of how seven feral cats command their territories with agility, charm, and persistence. Generous fishmongers make for prime stalking.

Local shop owners keep a running tab with multiple vets that they frequently visit for the sake of their feline pals. The community’s willingness to care for the cats that share their streets, apartments, and shops, speaks volumes about the culture and people of Istanbul.

The filmmakers make spritely connections between cats such as the charismatic Gamsiz, a black-and-white smooth slinky operator who keeps more than a few humans at his beck and call.

There are even a husband-and-wife couple of cats whose female counterpart keeps her male partner under close watch, lest he be tempted away by the charms of another cat.

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The film’s insights come from locals who have a lot to say about their cat companions.

“People who don’t love animals can’t love people either” makes sense on a fundamental level. “Kedi” is an ideal family documentary that captures the beauty of Istanbul from a cat’s eye perspective. And yes, there are plenty of kittens bouncing around in various predicaments for survival in the crevices of Istanbul’s (mostly) welcoming streets.

KEDi3

Not Rated. 80 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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February 14, 2017

BARTON FINK

Barton FInkJohn Turturro plays a Clifford Odets-styled playwright with a mean case of writer’s block after moving to LA to his first screenplay for a big Hollywood studio. Part “Eraserhead” and part “Naked Lunch,” “Barton Fink” is like whitefish on sand.

The neo-noir-styled story takes place around the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. If that little factoid is lost on most audiences, it nonetheless provides the Coens with a sense of societal dread that comes through in every frame of the picture. 

It's telling that the Coens famously wrote the script for "Barton Fink" while working through a troubled process during the writing of "Miller's Crossing." Written in just three week's, "Barton Fink" is a minimalist black comedy that relies on John Turturo's nerdy portrayal of the title character to keep the audience on the side of an ostensibly unlikable writer. Turturro's keen sense of comic poker-faced physicality — think Harold Lloyd — runs counterpoint to the lurking evil of John Goodman's insurance salesman Charlie, who occupies the hotel room next to Barton Fink.

Made on a relatively small budget of $6 million in 1991, "Barton Fink" was a box office flop in spite of winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes that year. You couldn't call this movie a polished filmic work of art, but it is a diamond in the rough that kept the Coens creative juices flowing. "Barton Fink" falls into the category of misses that the Coen Brothers have vacillated between for the whole of their career. It's still better than "Intolerable Cruelty" and "Hail, Caesar!" combined.  

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Rated R. 114 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)

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