Films I Neglected To Review: ''The Trigger Word Is 'Trigger'"
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/22/17 11:10:56
Please enjoy short reviews of "Elizabeth Blue," "Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards," "Shot" and "Trophy."
If movies were to be judged entirely on their sincerity and a preference for presenting ordinary details of day-to-day living over melodramatic fireworks, then ''Elizabeth Blue'' would be worthy of high marks indeed. Inspired by co-writer/director Vincent Sabella's own real-life struggles with mental illness, the story follows Elizabeth (Anna Schafer) as she leaves the psychiatric hospital where she has been residing with the hopes of picking up the pieces of her life by moving in with fiancee Grant (Ryan Vincent) and going to see a new doctor (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who is more interested in treating her various issues (which include schizophrenia, anxiety and OCD) by listening to her than by simply doping her up. She sounds enthused but one look at her suggests that her demons are not entirely at bay and the various manifestations of her afflictions (an imaginary raccoon that only she sees, a train sound that wakes her in the middle of the night and a litany of voices, including one that frequently urges her to kill herself) begin to dog at her and threaten to destroy her chance at happiness with Grant. The film is, as I said, sincere and well-intentioned but it goes so far in the other direction to avoid sensationalizing Elizabeth's issues that the story soon grows extremely poky and repetitive. Then, having established a preference for avoiding dramatic histrionics (aside from a soundtrack that is just a little too busy and on the nose for its own good), Sabella and co-writer Alfred D. Huffington then proceed to upend everything in the closing scenes with a surprise revelation that, although it does not come entirely from out of left field, still feels like a contrived and ultimately awkward attempt to provoke some kind of reaction from audiences, no matter what the means. Schafer gives a good and unforced performance as Elizabeth that is easily the best thing on display but even her contributions are not quite enough to make it worth checking out.
The last few years have seen a plethora of documentaries dealing with the fashion industry but virtually all of them have proven to be shallow exercises in hagiography that function primarily as feature-length advertisements for whatever designer, magazine or industry executive they are hyping. The latest such film is ''Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards,'' a title that sounds like it should be adoring an exceptionally bizarre 70s-era giallo but which instead deals with legendary shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, the man whose designs launched a thousand quips on ''Sex and the City.'' Some of you may find it odd to describe a shoe designer as legendary--an appellation normally reserved for artists on the level of a Nancy Meyers--but as this film demonstrates at great length, he will be the first to tell you that such an honorific is deserved and when he needs a breather, an army of friends and colleagues--including Anna Wintour, Karlie Kloss and Rihanna-are on hand to pick up the slack. Director Michael Roberts certainly knows how to put 90 minutes of cinematic deification together but when it comes to suggesting why it might be warranted--what it is about Blahnik’s creations that inspires such admiration from his customers and sets them apart from shoes that don't cost about the same as a used car--he is completely clueless. Instead of charting the development process of a shoe from its initial design to its final resting place upon the foot of a leggy supermodel at a red carpet gala, something that might have proved fascinating in the way that it charts the genuine artistic process that goes into something that might not be thought of by many as art--we get Blahnik yammering on at length about nothing at all and it soon becomes apparent that whatever charms he may possess in real life do not translate well to the screen as he comes across a bore who is constantly putting the ''blah'' in ''Blahnik.'' Shoe fetishists and Blahnik's most devoted fans may get a little bit of a kick out of this extended informercial but in terms of making an entertaining and informative documentary, Roberts clearly put his foot in it here.
Just because a film takes a position on a social or political concern that I happen to agree with personally does not mean that I am necessarily willing to give it a break if the movie is otherwise dubious from an artistic standpoint. That is certainly the case with ''Shot,'' a well-meaning drama arguing for a position that I happen to agree with--the need for common-sensical gun laws in this country--but which comes off as a cross between a jumbo-sized PSA and a Very Special Episode of ''E.R.,'' a sensation that is not exactly alleviated by the presence of Noah Wyle in the lead. He plays Mark, a movie special effects artist whose already-bad day--his schedule to produce effects for the film he is working on has just been accelerated to a virtually impossible rate and his estranged wife (Sharon Leal) wants him to sign the divorce papers--gets exponentially worse when he crosses paths with Miguel (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), a 16-year-old high school student who is being bullied for being gay who has just acquired an illegal handgun to protect himself from future attacks. The gun accidentally discharges and Mark is wounded and at that point, the film shifts into a real-time format that observes him as paramedics arrive to stabilize him and rush him to the hospital for emergency surgery that could determine whether he lives or dies and whether he will ever walk again. Occasionally, the picture shifts into split-screen mode so that we can also watch the terrified Miguel, who escaped in the chaos, as he tries to decide if he should get rid of the gun and lay low or confess to the shooting to the police. I understand what veteran director Jeremy Kagan (who did this great, if little-seen, Richard Dreyfuss vehicle called ''The Big Fix'' that I cannot recommend highly enough) and debuting screenwriter Anneke Campbell are going for here with the real-time gambit but the sincerity and good intentions are unfortunately subverted by the fact that in this case, the victim's story is so much more gripping and pressing than the shooter's that the attempts to give them equal time via the split screen device prove to be more distracting than anything else. Beyond that, the film doesn't really do much of anything other than preach to the converted about the need for sane gun laws and while it is blessedly less heavy-handed than it might have been in less subtle hands, the end result is a film that says and does all of the obvious surface things in regards to the topic at hand but never pushes itself to do anything more beyond that. All it does is prove that a platitude, no matter how artfully crafted it might be, is still just a platitude.
A much better film on an equally complicated subject is ''Trophy,'' a powerful new documentary about the seemingly incompatible worlds of big-game hunting, breeding and wildlife conservation and the strange ways in which they have begun to intertwine. With animals like rhinos being threatened with extinction thanks to overhunting by poachers eager to acquire their valuable but useless horns, some have taken to auction of so-called ''canned safaris''--outings that allow people to pay a huge price to hunt those very same animals while removing any of the possible dangers or challenges to those doing the hunting--with the money raised theoretically going back into conservation efforts. We follow one such hunter as he goes off on one of these alleged hunts and while he is off on his quest to kill as much big game as he can, he proudly avows that the Bible says it is okay to take down lions with a high-powered rifle while parroting the line about how he is really funding wildlife conservation. (When someone asks why he cannot simply donate to conservation efforts that do not require anything taking a bullet, though, he is a little less forthcoming with glib responses.) We also follow a conservationist who runs a breeding program for rhinos and has been going around removing the horns from those in the wild (they grow back within a couple of years) in the hopes of making them into less attractive targets for hunters. He wants to sell the horns and use the profits to fund his breeding but since dealing in them was made illegal, he lobbies the South African government to allow him to legally sell them. As this film by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz makes abundantly clear, the need for wildlife conservation cannot be denied but the way to go about it is not nearly as cut-and-dried and they present the various sides of the issues raised in a fair and even-handed manner that is both informative and occasionally enraging no matter where you stand on the subject. Except for that one smugly self-satisfied hunter we follow--that guy is a jerk through and through and I cannot imagine anyone who wouldn't cheer at just the thought of him getting mauled or trampled by his quarry or by shooting himself in the foot literally as well as metaphorically. Be warned, however--the film inevitably features quite a few potentially disturbing moments of animals being killed and those who might be bothered by such footage may want to give it a pass.