Friday, July 21, 2017

Alejandro Jodorowsky's Sublimely Surreal 'Endless Poetry'

After a 23-year hiatus, cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky re-emerged on the international cinema scene in 2013 with his autobiographical film The Dance of Reality, which was hailed by The New York Times as “something very close to a masterpiece.” Dance is the first of a projected five-part series that some may consider an “imagination-enhanced” version of the director’s fascinating life.

His latest effort, Endless Poetry, continues the series, following young Jodorowsky’s transformation from troubled teen to twentysomething boho poet, finding himself in the company of such famous writers as Nicanor Parra, Stella Diaz Varin and Enrique Lihn.

As Poetry begins, Alejandro (Dance‘s Jeremias Herskovits) is butting heads with his hot-tempered, working-class father (Brontis Jodorowsky, son of the director), who considers his son’s love of poetry to be an effeminate weakness. Meanwhile, his doting mother (Pamela Flores) literally sings all of her dialogue in an operatic voice.

A visit to his obnoxious relatives finally pushes Alejandro over the edge and, after threatening everyone with an axe, he is taken by his cousin to an artist’s colony where he can allow his artistic aspirations to bloom. He finds a happy home there, writing poetry and building puppets.

Ten years pass, and the now adult Alejandro (played by Adan Jodorowsky, another of the director’s sons) is instructed to go to the Cafe Iris and find himself a muse, as all poets need one.

At the cafe, he is smitten by the zaftig, punked-out poet Varin (Flores again, in a somewhat perverse casting choice), with whom he enters a violently sexual yet non-penetrating relationship. She explains that she is saving her hymen for a holy man who will someday come down from the mountain and into her life. Here, Alejandro becomes surrounded by poetry and those who create it.

The director populates the film with his typically colorful characters, and there are plenty of offbeat visuals. Like Federico Fellini, whom he has cited as his favorite filmmaker, Jodorowsky possesses the ability to offer up images of extreme theatricality and human grotesquerie that never feel exploitative. They’re just a part of the director’s world, and he grants even the strangest creatures recognizable humanity. Endless Poetry will not disappoint his fans — and may indeed attract new ones, since it’s certainly one of his most accessible works.

Talent certainly runs in the family. In addition to playing the lead, Adan composed the film’s score. The director’s wife, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky, designed the colorful costumes. The film looks gorgeous, too, with its surreal imagery and vibrant palate nicely captured by cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Practically 50 years after his El Topo helped to create the Midnight Movie scene, the almost 90-year-old Jodorowsky has returned to deliver more of his unique vision, and the world is better off for it.

Endless Poetry is currently playing at the Nuart in Los Angeles and the Sunshine in New York, Additional engagements can be found here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

'War for the Planet of the Apes' -- Clichéd Snorefest

Grimacing monkey popsicle.

Yes, I know I'll probably be in the minority here, but dammit! War for the Planet of the Apes was a clichéd stinkeroo!

The first half was great, but when we got to the Jar Jar Binks character about halfway through (glaring at Lucas) and the sweet little mute girl character (I'm looking at you, Cameron!), the stickiness started to cloy.

And the last 4 1/2 hours of the film in the Stalag 17 camp, in which each digital ape is allowed a "big moment," just became too smarmy to stomach. And how did the little girl pick up sign language so fast? And who the hell were all the new (ape) characters that Reeves automatically assumed we knew? And why did the female apes need beaded braids and small breasts to confirm their gender?

Jar Jar Ape.
Tip to the director — don't give one of your characters (Woody Harrelson's General) an endless 20-minute monologue to describe the entire plot while Serkis' Caesar reacts with varying CGI expressions. It's a movie, for God's sake. Fucking show us the story!

Even the CGI became dodgy. As I got bored, I started reflecting on the fact that I was watching a computer program, with all the yowling soullessness that the term implies.

Finally, the endless climax during which Reeves demands that we empty our tear ducts over and over and over and over and over again was just too much of a Spielbergian emotion-grab, something I became immune to a long, long time ago.

So disappointing, because Reeves had handled the emotion of this realm so delicately in the first two installments without reverting to the old "SYMBOLISM! Here's Caesar as the crucified Jesus! And what do you know? The General is Hitler! LOOK! The mute girl is Nova, which ties it to the first film! BANG BANG!"

And when the apes finally make it to their promised land, like Moses leading his people. it made me long to be watching the bunnies in Watership Down instead.

And all this jabbering about Serkis deserving an Oscar nomination — oh, please. If it was just him in human form glaring at the camera for 2 1/2 hours, it would've been considered "one note."

SXSW 2017 Review: Laura Terruso's 'Fits and Starts'

Wyatt Cenac and Greta Lee in Laura Terruso’s Fits and Starts.
In many ways, Laura Terruso’s Fits and Starts is the very archetype of an indie comedy one would expect to find at SXSW. Modestly budgeted and quirky, these films rely on a good cast, adequate production values, and enough laughs to keep them amusing. Fits and Starts is mostly successful in checking off all these boxes.

David Warwik (People of Earth‘s Wyatt Cenac in a well-drawn performance) is a writer who seemed destined for a great career in the literary world, but he still hasn’t been able to complete his first book. Meanwhile, his wife, Jennifer (Greta Lee), a former student, has already published two novels, the second of which has been especially successful. Naturally, he’s jealous of her and stands in the back of the room during her bookstore readings, glazy-eyed and waiting for it to be over.

After just such a reading, she is invited to her publicists’ Connecticut home to attend one of their regular “salons” (pronounced with a long “o”), and she sees it as a great way to get her blasé husband in front of a bunch of literary types so he can read an excerpt of his work in progress.  She is shocked when he is less than enthusiastic about her plan, and the friction between them increases as they pick up a rental car and drive to the country.

On the way, Jennifer is furious to discover that careless David had grabbed the wrong bag off the counter at home, so instead of the two bottles of snobby wine she’d carefully chosen for her hosts, she is holding two bottles of drinking water. A hunt for replacement wine ensues, and the two somehow manage to become separated. While she wanders around trying to get in touch with him, he goes on to the salon in hopes of finding her there. It’s during this separation that they start to realize how much they mean to each other.

Terruso packs her film with a number of quirky characters, from the cops who interrupt them as they try to engage in an impromptu session of roadside sex (“Would you like us to watch?”) to the artistés performing at the ridiculously pretentious salon.

The only other fully-developed character in the piece (besides the bickering couple) is a strange, sadistic literary agent played by Maria Dizzia, who nurtures, seduces, and attacks David — sometimes simultaneously.

More a series of comic vignettes rather than a fully cohesive narrative, Fits and Starts is still fun to watch as it skewers its well-chosen targets, and Cenac’s ennui-inflicted performance is hilarious.

Fits and Starts was reviewed at SXSW on March 10, 2017, at the Stateside Theatre in Austin, Texas.


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