What movie was that...?

17 May 2012

Wet Hot American Summer

directed by David Wain

The beauty of Michael Showalter and David Wain’s excellent Wet Hot American Summer is not that it’s different from every other summer camp genre comedy. The beauty of the film is that it’s exactly like every other summertime genre comedy, and therein resides the genius. Wet Hot American Summer is like every mocking conversation you and your friends have had whilst watching Meatballs, Meatballs 2, -insert title of some lesser summertime comedy of which you have some inside jokey type of personal connection here-, and the result is a wacky ass and raunchy flaunting of cliché. It never hurts when you have the cast of usual Wain suspects at your disposal, talent like the enormously spectacular Paul Rudd, the always perfect Elizabeth Banks, the marvelously smarmy Ken Marino (that perm!), the elusive Michael Showalter- hell, I could go on and on, about the genius of Jo Lo Truglio (the bike slash foot chase between Truglio and Marino is classic), the underplayed hilarity of Janeane Garofalo, or the fantastically fantastic stylings of Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black, but the total is far greater than the sum of its very hilarious parts. The plot is easy enough: the last day at summer camp and all the shenanigans and tomfoolery you can imagine, but this is the kind of film I love to watch about this time of year to prime the engine for summer. Critically and commercially it was a dud, but we all know how much we can trust those snobby, know it all movie critics. Bottom line: Wet Hot is great in much the same way Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz is great, because it pokes fun at a genre for which we all share a great deal of affection while succeeding at being tremendously funny in its own right. Wain has said he is writing both a sequel and a prequel to Wet Hot, and frankly I don’t know which one of those possibilities makes me more excited. 

15 May 2012

Bombay Beach

directed by Alma Har'el

The recipe for the heady cocktail that is Bombay Beach:
1 part Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus gorgeous surrealism.
2 parts mesmerizing and prismatic familial dysfunction, á la October Country.
A dollop of a deeply profound sense of cosmic mystery and connectivity with all things.
Combine mixture in the scorched wasteland of the Salton Sea. Stir evenly.
Garnish with musical pieces from Beirut and Bob Dylan (to taste).
Savor to the last drop.

Documentary filmmaker Alma Har’el has tried very hard to do what Andrew Douglas did effortlessly in Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, what came naturally to Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri in October Country, what National Geographic seemingly stumbled upon in The Story of the Weeping Camel: that this place we call earth and this state we call existence is a gorgeous, haunting thing full of such mysterious strangeness and deep, deep wonder. Does this mean that Har’el has failed where others have succeeded? Absolutely not. Hard work and a capable eye prevail in this rough and lovely documentary. Amid the wreckage of Bombay Beach, Har’el shines a light on three men in an effort to create a kind of spectrum of life as it persists in the cosmic hardscrabble. A little boy named Benny, coping with dysfunction and the turmoil of his little boy mind. A teenager named CeeJay, working hard to forge a new life for himself as he trades one wild place for another. And Red, the relic of a life hard lived and a state of existence hard earned, carving out a niche for himself as a cigarette peddler in Slab City. Together, they tell the story of life in the down and out, the culture of society on the fringe, and how strong the roots of family and friendship run, even in the unforgiving Southern California desert. Har’el films wonderfully staged musical sequences both to comment on and punctuate her tale, and the result is something that took my breath away at times. Films like this seem to do a better job at telling the big truths than other, more straightforward and factual films seem to do, and a film as relentlessly optimistic as this one finds ways to make you yearn for even the simplest of pleasures. Like the films aforementioned, Bombay Beach is a tough tonic, but well worth the time.

14 May 2012

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

directed by John Foy

Anyone unfamiliar with the mysterious and enigmatic Toynbee tiles need not worry when it comes to this colossally entertaining doc by John Foy, for this masterful film provides you with a mesmerizing glimpse down the rabbit hole whilst well informing you of its content. In the spirit of frontloading: Resurrect Dead tells the story of tile works that have for decades appeared on the streets of numerous city roads in the United Sates and even South America, tile works that, while bearing variation in bordering messages, always contain the same centralized text in a four line block:
Pretty effing weird, right? Even those who are well versed in Toynbee tile lore will have a ball watching Foy’s trio of amateur sleuths (Justin Duerr, Colin Smith and Steve Weinik) as they attempt to solve a decades old mystery by pooling resources and brainpans. Foy blends technique and content to wonderful effect throughout, combing Errol Morris style re-enactments with talking head interviews and present day unfoldings, all punctuated by his own excellent score. Not since Zodiac have I been so maddeningly enthralled in mystery, to such an extent that I wished I could somehow make the movie happen faster because I wanted know what was beneath each subsequent stone. Foy takes his time unveiling new mysteries, new blind alleys, and new pieces of an already baffling puzzle. Resurrect Dead is a treat in every way, one of my favorites of the year so far.