Films I Neglected To Review: Risky BusinessBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/19/15 10:37:14
Please enjoy short reviews of "Dope," "The Face of an Angel," "Manglehorn," "The Wolfpack" and "The Yes Men are Revolting"
The first half-hour or so of the film is hugely entertaining in the way that writer-director Rick Famuyiwa sets up the plot and his colorful cast of characters in a breathlessly exciting and eye-catching manner. The problem is that after a while, it begins to submit to many of the same hood movie cliches that it initially suggests that it will be skewering--the relentless use of what the kids call "the n word" gets a little tiresome (and a scene in which a white character is called out for using it does not quite make up for that) and the occasional flirtations with misogyny (best exemplified by a long sequence involving a babe whose only functions in the film are to get stoned, get naked, nearly relieve Malcolm of his virginity and graphically demonstrate two of the less-appealing bodily functions) being chief among them. Towards the end, it takes a turn for the serious, especially in its final scene, that just do not quite ring true with what came earlier. Neither as good as its supporters have suggested nor as grotesque as its dictators have described, "Dope" has a few big laughs here and there and the young stars (of whom Revolori is probably most familiar from his appearance in "The Grand Budapest Hotel") have an undeniable charm that helps cut through some of the nonsense surrounding them. In the end, it is probably worth a look but, to quote one of the musical classics from the era it venerates, don't believe the hype.
It sounds interesting in theory and if anyone could pull off such a dramatic hall of mirrors gambit, it is Winterbottom, a director who seems to thrive on setting up audacious storytelling challenges and then trying to make them all pay off. Unfortunately, while he certainly deserves points for the effort, the fact is that he has not quite managed to pull it off this time around. The idea of making a film about a filmmaker charged with creating a screenplay about a real-life incident whose confusion about what approach to take leads him down any number of psychological rabbit holes is essentially the same thing that Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze did in "Adaptation" and they managed to demonstrate a sense of humor about the confusion they were generating at the same time. (Winterbottom himself did something along these lines a few years ago with "Tristram Shandy," a film that began as an adaptation of the famously unreadable novel and became the hilarious story of the attempt to adapt a famously unreadable novel.) By comparison, Winterbottom's approach is oftentimes deadly in its self-seriousness and the meta aspects grow so pronounced after a while that the entire thing threatens to become its own human centipede. It is a shame because some of the film's contemplations about "truth" is perceived by those charged with delivering it are interesting and there is a nice and unforced supporting performance from supermodel Cara Delevigne as the one completely straightforward character, a student who befriends the filmmaker and suggest that he abandon the bleakness and do a love story instead. "The Face of an Angel" is a noble effort and I suppose it is more interesting than a direct translation of the real-life case might have been but it just isn't quite interesting enough to justify all the hoops that it forces viewers to jump through.
"Manglehorn" was directed by David Gordon Green, one of the great young American filmmakers and one whose best films (including "George Washington," "Snow Angels" and "Joe") have always stressed character and mood over conventional narrative structure. That is certainly the case here but this time around, the results are a little more muddled than usual as Green and screenwriter Paul Logan never seem to have a particularly firm grasp of what they are trying to say and the combination of down-to-earth moments with the occasional flights of magical realism, as embodied in the tales of Manglehorn's past exploits, seems more forced than usual. (That said, there is one haunting image in which Manglehorn, carrying his cat for a walk, stumbles upon a multi-car pileup that has been additionally garnished with hundreds of smashed watermelons.) What saves the film and makes it worth watching, however, is the uncharacteristically lovely Pacino performance--having steered fellow overactor Nicolas Cage to one of the best and most restrained turns of his career in "Joe," Green works the same magic here and while the end result is a performance that probably will not be featured heavily in very many YouTube clip reels, it does stand as a needed reminder of what a powerful and eloquent actor Al Pacino can be without the hysterics.
This is intriguing stuff, I suppose, but I must admit to being baffled by how debuting filmmaker Crystal Moselle could come across such a fascinating subject and end up doing so little with it. For starters, the story is told in a strangely haphazard manner that grows increasingly frustrating in the way that it never gets around to really dealing with the questions that it raises, including such key ones like the extent of the real physical and psychological damage that was done to these kids by keeping them under such tight restrictions (there is a brief reference to some physical abuse that goes no further) or how Moselle came across their story and convinced the family (especially the father) to allow her into the house to film their story. Moreover, none of the brothers really emerge as individual characters until the very end and while that may be part of the point, it makes for some very confusing moments that are further exacerbated by a chronology of events that is not particularly clear either. Finally, there is the inescapable fact that this story might have benefitted greatly as an hour-long documentary for an outlet like HBO--at a full 90 minutes, it runs long and drags quite a bit in the final stretch. To be fair, "The Wolfpack" has received a number of rapturous reviews from other critics and I wouldn't necessarily want to warn off anyone who might be interested in seeing it for themselves. However, considering how promising the basic premise sounds in theory, I can't help but think that more could have been done with it with a different and more coherent approach than the one utilized here. Where is Michael Winterbottom when you need him?
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