February 28, 2019

HUMMUS! THE MOVIE

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More character and social study than the historically relevant document you might hope for, “Hummus! The Movie” comes up short. It doesn’t help that a stark omission of necessary subtitles will prevent English speaking audiences from understanding a significant portion of the documentary. A lack of chyrons places further distance from the viewer.

We’re introduced to several Middle East restaurateurs who feature hummus on their menu to the delight of crowds willing to wait on line for culinary delights. We learn that Christian monks in Abu Gosh, Jerusalem are big fans of hummus.  

Hummus

A tale of rival hummus shops fails to deliver a punch line. Still, the film wins points by introducing us to one hilarious individual in the guise of a man who is a teacher, mentor, hip-hop singer, DJ, rabbi, and grand master of an untitled martial arts system. This dude is a stone-cold trip. Here is one fascinating character who deserves a documentary more than hummus does, in the context of this picture anyway.  

Glaringly, the filmmakers don’t engage audience taste buds accustomed to watching Top Chef Masters. We need to hear a chef wax poetic about the fresh lemon brightness, and bite of parsley, to begin to imagine what makes this food such an ideal canvas for other flavors to harmonize.

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I love hummus; I eat it all the time. Sadly this movie doesn’t move me to understand or enjoy hummus any more than I already do. That’s not to say that this movie was obligated to do such a thing, but it didn’t hold my interest enough to not consider such details. Here is a perfunctory documentary that doesn’t inspire its audience on any level. What a waste.  

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THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF JOHN WELD

John WeldPlainly composed reenactments of sequences from actor/stuntman-turned-novelist John Weld’s picaresque life add charm to this heartfelt, if unpretentious, biopic. Peter Coyote’s familiar voice provides warm authority to the voice-over narration amid commentary from a handful of professionals whose identities get brushed over due to the filmmakers’ limited use of chyrons. Note to documentarians, chyrons should always be present when commentators are speaking if the audience is to know who is doing the editorializing.

This isn’t a flashy documentary that you’re likely to write home about, but it reflects well on a romantic soul who followed his heart and life lessons as learned from such towering acquaintances as Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, and James Joyce. Weld overcame a lack of caring or affection from his mother, by falling in love at the drop of a hat — not such a negative trait after all.   

Workaday television director Gabe Torres (“Fight to Survive”)  isn’t out to make a big splash, and that’s fine. It’s refreshing to be reminded that not every movie has to have a big budget or include A or even B-list actors.

Remarkable Life of John Weld

While “The Remarkable Life of John Weld” is modest in its approach, charming performances from Nick Tag (as John Weld), Claire Adams, and Varda Appleton provide a solid foundation for the story to unfold. John Weld’s life story is a reminder that success is what you make it.

John Weld

Weld instinctively understood what Joseph Campbell called “following your bliss.” In Weld’s case that bliss relied on the love of a woman with whom he could share his ambitions and desires. Indeed, there’s something to be said for that. Seek out this enjoyable little movie if you are so inclined; it’s still better than some Oscar-nominated movies that might come across.  

Rated TV-PG. (76 mins) (B) 

Three Stars

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December 19, 2018

THE FAVOURITE

FavouriteAvant-garde filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”) breaks with making half-baked experimental films (“Dogtooth”) in an attempt to go mainstream. Good luck with that. Lanthimos is still making half-baked movies. 

“The Favourite is an ostensibly ribald period drama penned by upstart screenwriter Deborah Davis and television scripter Tony McNamara. The predictably vanilla result is a cup more empty than full.

Queen Anne (wonderfully played for keeps by Olivia Colman) holds court in early 18th century England with the assistance of her trusted maidservant Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough. Blenheim Palace is the visually stunning setting for all sort of political and sexual intrigue amongst every resident and visitor.

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Lady Sarah’s oh-so moderne cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) has fallen on hard times when she arrives at the palace, after being kicked into the mud, to call on Sarah’s generosity. Emma Stone is no Marlene Dietrich. Naturally, Sarah installs Abigail as a lowly maid rather than show her any familial favor. Abigail wastes no time earning fast promotion to become her aloof cousin’s number one rival. Abigail’s newly elevated status involves giving head to the Queen. The tasty honor comes at a premium since it means usurping Lady Sarah’s place in the Queen’s heart — cough.

“The Favourite” is a sexed up costume drama that feigns transgression without ever committing to the necessary nasty and naughty perversions essential to sell the goods. It seems that Yorgos Lanthimos has never seen “Caligula.” Where oh where are all those bodily fluids? Some audiences will giggle over the film's rampant use of the C-word in the Old World but so what? Brits do that every day. Too bad John Waters didn’t get his Vaseline-stained paws on this script to defile it in a way that could really speak to modern society’s porn-happy, politically saturated, technology-dulled senses the way it deserves. Von Trier could also have worked a few tricks on this (in-dire-need-of-a-rewrite) script. What a squandered opportunity.

The-favourite

The transgression genre desperately needs some new blood, or some very dirty old blood. Modern Cinema needs it badly. “The Favourite” isn’t even a pale imitation of the sardonic satire that it aspires to. Where is the Marquis de Sade when you need him most?

Rated R. 119 mins. (C-) 

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