Tag Archives: dark comedy

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)

23 Feb

It’s a cruel, cruel world. Taking place in what could only be Trump’s America, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore details the day-to-day life of Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a jaded medical assistant who seems disgusted by the self-centeredness of a universe where “everyone I see is an asshole.” Ruth lives at home; her only friend is Angie, a busy housewife who has no time to listen when she nearly has an emotional breakdown after becoming a crime victim. It’s enough to push Ruth over the edge and investigate the perpetrators on her own terms, enlisting the help of her violent, short-tempered neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) who just also happens to be a skilled martial artist.

Macon Blair, a skilled actor making his directorial debut, tightly commands every moment of this pitch-black comedic thriller. The jokes are few and far between, but they are delivered in such sly fashion they have a big impact (the bar scene is awkward enough to rival any episode from The Office). Blair, who comes fresh off of acting in Jeremy Saulnier’s acclaimed indie thrillers Green Room and Blue Ruin, is obviously a big genre fan himself, and his script here takes from a variety of influences (Martin McDonagh and the Coen brothers come to mind) while still feeling fresh and original. Lynskey gives her career-best performance as someone who is constantly weighed by the anxieties of the modern world but still someone who wants to make the altruistic change she wishes she could see in other people.

The story gets bumpy at around the halfway mark, but the few narrative issues are easily put aside when the film dives headfirst into its white-knuckle, absolutely batshit-insane third act. Here Blair’s talent shines like a beacon and he creates enormous amounts of tension in an incredibly tight timeframe. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a taut little thriller that leaves a bigger impression than it should.

Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey appear in I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore by Macon Blair, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Allyson Riggs.

Bottom Line: A genre-infused piece that shows Macon Blair’s inherent directorial sensibilities,  I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a deliciously clever and innovative take on the vigilante revenge story. It’s also incredibly suspenseful and drop-dead hilarious. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: Fargo + In Bruges + Straw Dogs + Gran Torino 

The Lobster (2016 Sundance)

25 Jan

There are films. There are movies. And then there is The Lobster. Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the film is set in the not-too-distant-future where single people are turned into animals if they remain without a significant other for too long. Yes, you read that right – these unfortunate and lonely folks are literally are transformed into another species.

Our hero is a nameless university professor (Colin Farrell) whose wife has just vanished – presumably with another lover. Faced with the possibility of turning into an animal, he enrolls into a hotel that specializes in matchmaking, in hopes that he will soon connect with another love before it’s too late. It’s at this mysterious hotel where he meets an unusual assortment of characters, from a woman with chronic nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), to a man with a lisp (John C. Riley) to a powerful huntress who may or may not be a complete sociopath (Angeliki Papoulia).  Other interesting characters are thrown into the mix during the film’s second half, (which takes place outside of the hotel) including performances by Ben Wishaw, Rachel Weiz, and Lea Seydoux.

In the world of The Lobster, every human is miserable, awkward, and desperately lonely. The resulting interactions between these odd characters are painfully hilarious.  Like Lanthimos’ previous Oscar-nominee DogtoothThe Lobster contains a richly distinct tone that relies on deadpan humor with an absurdist touch. It’s a strange film, with each moment building awkward tension from the previous. Contrast The Lobster with the nihilistic and disturbing Dogtooth, and you see Lanthimos has turned down the gritty, Haneke-esc violence in favor of something more subtle and charming. Though it’s wildly unpredictable and completely absurd, everything in The Lobster feels like it has purpose and meaning, and the layered themes Lanthimos brings up about companionship, love, and connectedness become surprisingly touching.

Boasting an ensemble cast, immaculate cinematography, and a stunning score, The Lobster is a near-masterpiece. Though its artsy weirdness and irrational sensibilities might not be for everyone, Yorgos Lanthimos has no doubt defined himself as a unique and exciting storytelling voice.

Bottom line: Brilliantly crafted with a good amount of dark humor, The Lobster is thoughtfully bizarre and joyously unpredictable; it’s the rare kind of mind-melter that’s both cognitively stimulating and emotionally touching. 

Rating: 10/10 

Film Recipie: Moonrise Kingdom + Borgman + A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence 

Doomsdays (2015)

12 Dec

It seems to be common knowledge these days that we are on the eve of an apocalypse. Global warming, international wars, and the probable pandemic outbreak of some killer disease will certainly spell the oncoming death of humanity. However no event could be at catastrophic as reaching “peak oil”, a theoretical moment in the future where Earth will depleted of all it’s oil resources.

If civilization is bound to die soon anyway, why not try and live it up? That’s the exact attitude which embodies the two protagonists of Doomsdays. Billed as a “pre-apocalyptic comedy” Eddie Mullins’ debut feature film examines the lives of two apathetic but cynical hipsters/freeloaders/ criminals/vagabonds/alcoholics who decide to spend their remaining time on earth by illegally partying at other’s expenses. And by “illegally partying” I mean breaking, entering and residing in stranger’s empty countryside homes. Most of Doomsdays features Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) and Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) devouring stolen food and booze to their hearts content while completely trashing every home they come across – all without giving a single fuck.

It’s the kind of shocking, ethically questionable setup that feels like it was taken straight from A Clockwork Orange, but Mullins’ characters are so determined to live by their strange moral code (one running gag features a character who not only refuses to drive, but he is committed to destroying every car he sees) that they do everything so nonchalantly together it becomes darkly funny.

Our colorful duo comes across a few interesting characters during their journeys, including an adventurous younger boy named Jaidon (Bryan Charles Johnson), an angry homeowner named Ronnie (Neal Huff) and a “tourist” named Reyna (Laura Campbell). Fitzpatrick and Rice both give compelling performances and show off their character traits flawlessly; Bruho is prone to having sporadic fits of anger, while Dirty Fred lives up to his name and has a tendency to seduce women with his French. Doomsdays is not only a great character piece, but it’s also the funniest thing I have seen all year. Mullins has a great comedic knowhow and the unpredictable WTF action that takes place through the clever framing of cinematographer Cal Robertson is absolutely hysterical.

Strangely, the tone becomes a bit too silent, cynical and sterilized at times so that it slightly undermines the brilliantly funny writing (think something like Michael Haneke directing a script from Noah Baumbach). There are a few moments when the breaking-and-entering schtick runs a bit thin, but for the most part, the film works like a charm and just becomes more engaging as it progresses along to its odd but satisfying climax.

Bottom line: With characters that feel alive and energetic, Doomsdays is a hilariously creative indie comedy that doubles as a weird examination of apocalyptic apathy. 

Dirty Fred likes to think out of the box.

Rating: 9/10 

Film recipe: Borgman (2014) + Buzzard (2015) + Clerks (1995) 

Faults (2015)

14 Jun

“When you are awake you think more, but when you are tired you feel more,” explains Ansel to his sleep-deprived hostage, Claire. “So I’m forcing you to stay awake so you can feel what I am trying to say to you.” Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) is a former authority on cults, mind control, and brainwashing. He spends his days on the road, trying to sell his latest book at a series of dead-end hotel conventions. He eventually is confronted with two parents (Chris Ellis and Beth Grant) whose daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has ran away to join a mysterious cult group called Faults. Desperate to have their daughter back, they offer Ansel 20 grand if he can effectively de-brainwash their daughter from this newfound religion. Strapped for cash after a recent divorce, Ansel takes the job.

Faults starts out as a dark comedic piece brought on by Ansel’s quirky and awkward mannerisms. Surprisingly, the comedy then slowly gives way to a dark crime drama and then full-on psychological thriller. It’s a film that’s deeply felt and experienced rather than simply viewed and is sure to leave its subconscious mark in the brain long after the credits.

First time director Riley Stearns does a great job bringing out some killer performances from a pitch-perfect cast of actors. Most of the film revolves around our two leads trying to pry open each other’s brains, which triggers a psychological meltdown in the final act. It wouldn’t work so well without some exceptional acting, but fortunately the performances of Orser and Winstead are both knockouts.

The film does drag somewhere at the halfway point where the dialogue wears a bit thin, but for the most part Faults is a stimulating puzzle capable of leaving you laughing at one moment and horrified the next.

Bottom Line: Expertly mixing tone and genre, Faults is a darkly satisfying indie mindfuck sure to please those looking for something different.

 

Screenshot 2015-06-07 22.03.29

Rating: 8/10 

 

Film Recipe: Upstream Color (2013), + Sound Of My Voice (2011) + Coen Bros

Maps To The Stars (2014)

4 Mar

Ah, to be David Cronenberg.

The Provocateur’s 21st (!!!) feature film Maps To The Stars marks a true return to form for the director, after his previous film Cosmopolis underperformed critically and commercially back in 2012.  Ever since 2006’s excellent A History of Violence, Mr. Cronenberg seems to have abandoned his gore-filled fascination with bodily horror in favor of darkly and subtly examining the psychological horror embedded deep within ourselves. Maps To The Stars is no different. 

The Film focuses on an atypical hollywood family, particularly when Agatha Weiss (played brilliantly by Mia Wasikowska) comes back home from a mysterious Florida trip. Her mother and father (played by Olivia Williams and John Cusack) each have their own set of issues at play, most of which become increasingly complicated with Agatha’s unwelcome return.  Thier troubles don’t hold a candle to actress Havana’s (Julianne Moore) however, as she is on the brink of scoring the film role of a lifetime, and in a strange coincidence, hires Agatha as her personal assistant or self described “chore-whore”. 

One of Maps’ greatest highlights is in it’s casting. Appearances by Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon round out a wonderfully dark and amusing bunch of performances, and newcomer Evan Bird provides a very unorthodox look at child acting.  At times the script wanders aimlessly into rants about love, destiny, and forgiveness. At other times it divulges into vigana jokes.

Darkly bizarre and completely entrancing, Maps To The Stars certainly is poised to stir up quite the talk among hollywood circles, and deserves our full attention. Cronenberg has a knack for exposing and reveling in the hidden fears and desires of his characters and this film is one of his best examinations of the egocentric and conflicted mind at work. With an obvious distain (possibly even hatred) for the hollywood lifestyle Maps effectively disseminates the frail and futile search for personal fulfillment in a land riddled with commercial exploitation and extravagance.

This film is 100% Cronenberg at his most cynical best. The ugly characters manipulate, control and exploit one another, in the convoluted, erratic, and thorny environment that is the modern film industry. While the film does speak at multiple levels, it becomes clear early on that Cronenberg has developed a singular message: despite its glitzy and star-gazed appeal, there is a treacherous, cold, and violent facet of hollywood lurking just beneath surface.

Bottom Line: With an ensemble cast, Maps To The Stars makes for some ugly but fascinating viewing and a true return-to-form for Cronenberg.

Rating – 7/10 

Film Recipie: Cosmopolis (2012) + Nightcrawler (2014) + Mulholland Dr. (2001) 

 

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

15 Jun

The Squid and the Whale is the third film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, who has mostly been known for his collaborations with fellow filmmaker Wes Anderson.  Like Anderson’s films, The Squid and the Whale is a dark comedy of sorts but one with a truly unique and cynical outlook on divorce, sexuality and family life.  What makes this film so great is the superb writing.  The characters are multilayerd and complex, brought to life by an amazing cast (Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, William Baldwin and Anna Paquin), and the story is rich and engaging. The film’s unique style, production design and soundtrack creates a vivid image of a moving New York during the 1980’s and the editing is fast paced, which constantly keeps the audience on-edge.

The way this film builds tension is incredible. What starts out as a seemingly simple premise quickly escalates into an unpredictable and deeply-moving drama that reaches an emotionally human core.  I was surprised at how much I laughed during this movie considering how terribly depressing it really is. The film is also loaded with carefully-placed subtleties that give new insights into the characters, making repeated viewings a must.  Independent film really doesn’t get much better than this.

 

rating 9/10

Similar to: Synecdoche New York, Blue Valentine, Happiness

Amelie (2001)

30 Nov

Amelie tells the story of a French twenty-something year-old girl.  She fantasizes about many things including dipping her hands into a bag of grain and cracking fresh creme’ brûlée’ with a spoon. Trapped somewhere between a naive childhood fantasy and the impending responsibility of adulthood, Amelie’s life takes a turn when she (though rather unknowingly) falls in love.

Amelie, as a film, is a montage of sorts about the small pleasures of life. Like watching a laughing baby or a litter of puppies, the film is an enchanting delight that is easy to get immersed into.  There is something universally charming about Amelie, both her character and the world in which she lives.  The colorful characters and remarkable production design give the film an animated vibrance that was unlike anything I have ever seen.

Some say this is a romance film done in the style of Woody Allen, others will point to the dark comedies reminiscent of Wes Anderson, or John Hughes.

I liked this film best for it’s wonderful use of music, story, cinematography and performances which really leave a lasting impression.  Technically, Amelie is flawless, but it’s the emotions and vibrance of the film which make it a mesmerizing and overall enchanting piece of cinema.  One of my all time favorite French films.

rating 10/10