Overboard (2018)

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I hadn’t realized, initially, that Rob Greenberg’s Overboard is a remake of the 1987 comedy of the same name that starred Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. It should have been obvious in retrospect; I can’t swear I’ve actually seen the original which is why I probably didn’t make the connection. In that version (directed by Garry Marshall), Goldie plays a snobbish heiress who refuses to pay Kurt’s handyman after he uses the wrong materials to build a large closet for her yacht. When Goldie later falls overboard and loses her memory, Kurt takes full advantage of the situation in order to get his revenge. In the remake, the roles are reversed: Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not Included) plays Leonardo Montenegro, a spoiled billionaire with a yacht called “Happy Birthday” and the requisite case of amnesia, and Anna Faris is Kate Sullivan, a pizza deliverer who dupes him after he refuses to pay for her cleaning services (single mom, hence the multiple jobs) following a rowdy champagne party on his boat. Either way the scenario is far-fetched but it works, surprisingly, because Derbez and Faris are great together (she’s never objectified; he’s objectified all the time), the supporting characters are likeable and well-rounded, and the script (by first-time feature director Greenberg and Bob Fisher, based on the original story by Leslie Dixon) is tight and, yes, actually believable. In fact, Overboard has everything you’d want from a rom-com, including both romance and comedy in equally deft measures, and it left a pretty big grin on my face, mostly because Derbez’s character is so charming and Faris’s character takes such advantage of him. Eva Longoria (as Kate’s girlfriend, Theresa) and Getting On’s Mel Rodriguez co-star, and they’re great too.


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Alpha (2018)

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Alpha is a rousing adventure yarn about a boy and his dog. Well, supposedly a boy and his wolf. Well, not technically a wolf, but a German Shepherd/Carpathian wolf crossbreed. Meet Chuck: a Czechoslovakian wolf dog who plays the title character with predatory charm.
     Set 20,000 years ago in Europe during the last Ice Age, Alpha tells the freewheeling story of Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nightcrawler from the X-Men franchise), a young man who is injured and left for dead during his inaugural hunting trip. On his arduous journey back home to his family, Keda befriends an injured wolf who has been similarly abandoned by its pack, and the two forge an inseparable bond.
     Working for the first time without his brother Allen (they collaborated on such films as Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, and The Book of Eli), director Albert Hughes relies as much on the chemistry between Keda and Alpha as he does on his cinematographer Martin Gschlacht (Therapy for a Vampire) and University of British Columbia linguist Christine Schreyer. Gschlacht delivers up no end of breathtaking visuals—verdant veldts, icy tundra, active volcanoes, threatening storms—while Scheyer fashions a complete and convincing language for the actors (the family-friendly film, shot mostly in Canada, is entirely subtitled… and bravely so).
     Alas, some of the story elements are a little less spectacular. I’m no prehistoric zoology buff, but why on earth would a herd of buffalo run towards a charging tribe of hunters, rather than in the opposite direction? And why would these men drive the entire herd off a cliff (to their deaths) when they clearly do not have the means to retrieve that quantity of meat and pelts? Why does Keda’s father abandon his comatose son without even attempting to fashion a rope—of belts or straps or something—to reach him? Why does Keda, once he comes to after the tribe has departed, climb down the cliff rather than the much shorter distance up it? And, last but not least, where the heck do those perfectly smooth, egg-shaped stones come from that serve as funeral markers!? They’re certainly not lying around on the ground, but the minute someone dies, the Neanderthals (no offense) are piling them up, cairn-like.
     These unanswered questions do not ruin the epic-ness of the film, not really, and neither do some questionable CGI sequences (when they’re good, it’s hard to differentiate from the real thing but when they’re bad, Alpha Puppy looks like Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films). Because when all is said and done, you can’t really beat a good ol’ old-fashioned boy-and-his-dog/wolf/wolf dog saga, now can you?
     On a scale of fun to ten, I give Alpha a K9!


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

The Dinner (2013)

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The 2013 Dutch film The Dinner (Het Diner) is the first of three adaptations in four short years of Herman Koch’s New York Times best-selling novel of the same name. (The Italians took a stab at it a year later with I Nostri NagazziOur Boys—and then, naturally, the Americanized “major motion picture” version showed up three years after that, ripe with the powerhouse casting of Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, and Rebecca Hall.) That sort of attention to source material made me curious about the book, of course, so I read it. But not until after I’d seen Menno Meyjes’s original take on Koch’s “chilling, nasty, smart, shocking, and unputdownable” book (according to Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl). (Trivia note: Netherlands-born Meyjes penned the screenplay for The Color Purple, came up with the story for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and directed John Cusack in 2007’s Martian Child, so he’s been around the block some.) Anyway, The Dinner (2013) is pretty much all those adjectives that Flynn articulated… except for unputdownable, obviously. The film also manages to be quite witty, which the book is too. It’s finely acted and confidently directed and holds one’s attention for 88 insightful minutes. Disgraced history teacher Paul (Jacob Derwig) and his wife Claire (Thekla Reuten) are meeting Paul’s brother, hot political prospect Serge (Daan Schuurmans) and his wife Babette (Kim van Kooten), at a fancy downtown restaurant. They’re there to talk—eventually—about their sons, teenaged cousins who appear to have been involved in a gruesome crime. As in the satirical novel, Paul is the narrator of the piece and provides the expositional voiceover, even breaking the fourth wall on occasion. As the tension-filled evening unfolds, the film’s central conceit—how far will these parents go to “protect” their children from the consequences of their actions?—is unnervingly laid bare as the conversation progresses from urbane to awkward to acerbic and beyond. If, like me, you have an appetite for these kinds of talky, four-character dramas—and this one in particular—then there are at least a couple more tasty ‘Dinners in your future.


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Suspiria (2018)

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“Music by the Goblins.” That’s what I remembered most after watching Dario Argento’s seminal shocker Suspiria as a youth back in 1977. What that odd credit actually refers to is the Italian four-piece known as Goblin (singular), a progressive rock band comprised of Massimo Morante (guitars, vocals), Claudio Simonetti (keyboards), Fabio Pignatelli (bass), and Agostino Marangolo (drums, percussion). They produced and performed the film’s heady score which, during the rain-soaked opening sequence at least, was the loudest thing I had ever heard in a movie theater, period. But boy did it work—a tinkly, 14-note refrain repeated over and often, accented at regular intervals by a booming bassline and daft, maniacal wailings.
     Needless to say, over the course of the next couple of months, I bought up pretty much everything else the band had released. Vinyl soundtracks for the most part—Profondo Rosso (Deep Red), Dawn of the Dead (aka Zombi, in which they were again credited, inexplicably, as “Dario Argento and the Goblins”), Squadra Antigangsters, Amo Non Amo, Patrick, Contamination, Tenebre, Notturno, Phenomena… Good stuff, mostly, but nothing with the migraine-inducing volume of Suspiria, which even to this day leaves a lasting impression with its cranked-to-11 intensity.
     Now, Luca Guadagnino’s long-anticipated remake has finally hit the multiplexes, with Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton heading up the principal cast (Jessica Harper and Joan Bennett were in Argento’s original, dearly beloved version). And Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke (guitars, keyboards, vocals) has been entrusted with providing the music. It’s a massively tall order, no question about it, but Yorke does the intelligent thing and doesn’t even try to emulate his predecessors, contributing instead a couple of effective songs at the beginning and end of the affair, along with some minimal baroque-influenced musings throughout.
     Guadagnino’s mostly-subtitled arthouse horror starts out well, and held my interest for almost two of its two-and-a-half hours (for those who don’t know, the plot revolves around an American dancer’s induction into a German dance academy that’s a front for a coven of witches). There’s a lot to like here: Swinton is always fascinating to watch—as Madame Blanc she dresses drably, puffs constantly on cigarettes, and puts the company through its rigorous paces. Johnson (the Fifty Shades trilogy) is also well cast as the naive ingenue Susie Bannion, and the film’s first kill sequence is especially well put together, as Susie takes an influential stab at dancing the lead. And Guadagnino (who gave us last year’s well-received Call Me by Your Name) slaps on the Style like it’s going out tomorrow.
     Admittedly, the nutzoid finale is a little OTT—pulchritudinous cavortings, sacrificial chantings, and arterial sprayings all combine in a depraved sequence of bacchanalian-styled excess that doesn’t quite know when to quit. Likewise, the earlier psychoanalyst stuntwork only serves to extend the film’s running time, as does the “German Autumn” political context; both could easily have been exorcised for the sake of economy (the 1977 film was over and done with in 97 minutes, by comparison).
     For fans of Argento’s gonzo cinematic vision, a new version of Suspiria could have been a full-blown disaster. Guadagnino and his game cast prevent that from happening, and while the film is a little bloated, it still offers much in terms of style, ambition, and the requisite grotesqueries.


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Wild Nights with Emily (2018)

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Emily lives in a white house, Virginal in its appearance — Susan’s house is painted all the many Colors of the rainbow; the two Victorian edifices sit side-by-side on adjacent plots of land in Amherst, Massachusetts — Like a naughty schoolgirl, Emily passes notes — To Susan, her childhood confidante, later aided and abetted by Susan’s young children who act as incurious couriers — These letters are poetic in nature: “Susie, forgive me Darling, for every word I say — my heart is full of you, none other than you is in my thoughts” — We’re in the 1870s (or thereabouts) and Emily is Emily Dickinson, the noted poet — She is played by Molly Shannon, ex-SNL, in Madeleine Olnek’s Wild Nights with Emily — Emily and Susan (Susan Ziegler, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23) giggle and bustle in their haughty crinolines but they mostly make out, even though Susan is now staunchly married to Emily’s brother, Austin — Susan’s rationale for doing so, other than needing a provider before she becomes a fully-fledged spinster, naturally, is that now she and Emily can finally be together, next-door Neighbors through all eternity — Olnek was given unprecedented access to Dickinson’s original manuscripts by the Harvard University Press and it affords the director of Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2012) and The Foxy Merkins (2014) a good excuse to orchestrate more Sapphic fumblings, or at least re-imagine what might have inspired the 19th century writer to pen some of her celebrated verses — Dickinson was a recluse who lived most of her life in button-downed seclusion, rarely straying from her bedroom even—or especially—when visitors came a calling — This odd condition supplies the film with its more humorous moments, as Emily’s younger sister, Lavinia, engages callers in the drawing room, suggesting ways these visitors might pretend to have met the eccentric poet face-to-face — Lavinia discovered close to 1,800 poems after her sister’s demise (kidney disease) in 1886; fewer than a dozen were published during Dickinson’s lifetime because they didn’t rhyme or have titles and Emily was a woman — Like Dickinson herself, I found the film to be rather plain, a little dull and dispassionate despite valiant turns from its two leads — Maybe Wild Nights with Emily is one of those films I’ll revisit, oh, ten, fifteen years from now and realize I Missed the Boat — But for now at least, I can gently revel aboard my ship of Purple gently tossed on Seas of daffodil —


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com