Sundance NEXT FEST is one of the best new film festivals that has come to LA. Not only does it feature an eclectic mix of films (favorites from the Park City festival), it’s blended with musical acts (ranging from Sky Ferreira to Neon Indian and Toro y Moi), music videos and virtual reality experiences. Over the last couple weekends, I saw every film save Cronies (missed due to scheduling). Here are my thoughts.
5. Entertainment (directed by Rick Alverson; starring Gregg Turkington, John C. Reilly, Tye Sheridan, Michael Cera, Lotte Verbeek, Amy Seimetz)
Entertainment is a dreary “movie” filled with scenes that go nowhere about a character going nowhere doing stand-up in the middle of nowhere (or Bakersfield, CA). It’s essentially a movie featuring Gregg Turkington’s Neil Hamburger character that wants to be reviled.
It accomplishes its mission. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a movie less, but then again, early on you realize Entertainment isn’t meant to be enjoyed — that the title is part of the joke.
I’ve only walked out of a movie once, and that was for Master of Disguise, and if it weren’t for Sharon Van Etten’s soulful self following this soulless dreck, I would have. It’s boring, depressing, and honestly probably trying to be these things, in hopes that it becomes this cult arthouse buzzy “picture” about a horrible, aimless, unredeeming character.
The cast is what drew me to this movie, and it’s impossible not to enjoy John C. Reilly in any movie, even this one, and it was fascinating to see the next Cyclops (Mud’s Tye Sheridan) as a hopping, smiling clown performer with an edge, an Energizer Bunny with seething malice at its audience, an apt metaphor for Rick Alverson’s directorial intent.
This movie will, unfortunately and undoubtedly, engender a vocal minority of die-hard fans and worshippers — people that love this sort of comedy. I fully admit that I do not.
4. Finders Keepers (directed by Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a movie with less empathy than Entertainment, and the documentary Finders Keepers is a wonderful elixir for that.
On the surface, it just seems like a silly, no-way-does-this-exist story about a man who purchases a repossessed storage unit, and inside, finds a smoker with a human leg inside. The original owner of the leg, upon learning this, wants it back — and Finders Keepers chronicles this insane, very North Carolina story.
But unexpectedly, what you find, is that Finders Keepers is surprisingly poignant on top of its humor. This is a movie not just about the custody of a human leg, but about overcoming addiction, grief, repairing familial relationships and the nasty, false allure of fame. Perhaps most importantly, it reveals incontrovertibly that Judge Mathis is a hero.
John Wood, the erstwhile owner of the leg, is addicted to drugs, while Shannon Wisnant, the new owner of the leg, is addicted to fame, or the idea of it. Wisnant sees himself as one of the world’s best businessmen, a brilliant talker and dealmaker. He begins charging money to see the foot, and dubs himself the “Footman,” printing t-shirts and other apparel. These are people that could be caricature, Southern stereotypes, and targets to make fun of, but the brilliance of Carberry and Tweel’s doc is that they empathize with Wood and Wisnant’s plights completely, and the result is a multi-faceted and fascinating portrayal of people we don’t often see.
Wisnant is one of those people who finds himself hilarious and wants to be famous at the expense of everything (including the relationship with his wife). He’s always cracking jokes, but unfortunately, in his one brief taste of fame appearing on a reality show, he realizes he’s the joke, and what a crock “reality” TV is, and it’s heartbreaking.
While everyone talks about being in the golden age of TV, we might also be finding ourselves in the golden age of documentaries, at least in the terms of reaching mainstream audiences. Finders Keepers is another worthy of attention.
3. Mistress America (directed by Noah Baumbach; starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear)
If Entertainment goes nowhere, Noah Baumbach’s continued lighter streak goes everywhere from the word ‘go’, and it never stops. There’s no break or breathing room, as Mistress America’s frenetic pace seems like its express mission.
This feels like a thematic companion piece to While We’re Young, in which Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts’ middle-aged couple desperately want to be Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried’s young, hipster couple, and vice versa. Here, Lola Kirke’s Tracy, a lonely college freshman, idolizes her older sister-to-be Brooke (Greta Gerwig), and it’s clear Brooke similarly wishes she was Tracy, with more of her life still ahead of her.
Lola Kirke feels gloriously out of place next to Greta Gerwig, and their odd-couple pairing is bliss. Gerwig, who also co-wrote the film, is at her default setting of luminous, continually proving that she can carry films on charisma alone.
While Finders Keepers’ Wood and Wisnant seem like cartoon characters and become these layered, nuanced people, Baumbach’s ensemble in Mistress America are farcical hipster figures that seem impossibly ridiculous, but somehow, feel like that asshole at a party you just met (who probably loves Entertainment), or at least, jives with your perception of that person. Carberry and Tweel’s stated mission was to empathize with Wood and Wisnant, whereas Baumbach populates his characters allergic to the very concept of empathy. Unlike Entertainment, however, I was having a helluva lot of fun.
Both While We’re Young and Mistress America are ridiculous, hilarious and filled with characters who say everything that’s on their mind (#nofilter), damn the repercussions and damn everyone else, but both films are undeniably sad (and feature a stark turn in the final act). Baumbach paints a fittingly self-absorbed New York in each, filled with people who want to be someone else, or long to be older, younger, to fast forward or rewind their life. Nobody is happy with their current station in life; nobody has figured it out. It’s actually reassuring, if depressing.
But Mistress America doesn’t allow for moping, even if every line is a stated observation on life. That’s because every line elicits laughs to the point where I felt like I missed a sizable segment of this film.
During a desperate, bonkers, never-ending, hilarious book club crashing scene lifted from a sitcom (one of the best sequences of the year), it becomes clear that the only way to deal with this self-absorbed, shitty world is to laugh at it, and find the people you want to laugh with. Who knew that would be Noah Baumbach?
2. Cop Car (directed by Jon Watts; starring Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Shea Wigham)
I love Cop Car. Check out my full review here.
1. Turbo Kid (directed by Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell; starring Munro Chambers, Laurence Lebouef, Michael Ironside)
Turbo Kid is everything you want in a French-Canadian post-apocalyptic ode to 1980s sci-fi, superheroes and pop culture’s most powerful entity: nostalgia.
Many of you are probably wincing at the mere mention of a post-apocalyptic story, and that’s warranted given the glut of gritty, dark YA parables are flooding theaters and book stands every week. Turbo Kid is blessedly full of light and life and heart and color, as The Kid (Degrassi‘s Munro Chambers) teams up with the impossibly cheery Apple (played by Laurence Lebouef, exuding a brand of charming that should be illegal) to battle Zeus (MICHAEL IRONSIDE ALERT!), the Wasteland’s one-eyed overlord.
It’s a delightful hodgepodge of comic book, sci-fi, coming-of-age and dystopian storytelling, crafted into a wondrously tasty B-movie chili with all the right ingredients, with SO MUCH BLOOD sprinkled on top. The movie is clever, simple and stupid, all at once, and the result is something that resurrects your childhood and imagination in a way that modern movies often can’t do. This feels like a classic Amblin movie, if that movie was made by a grown-up version of yourself that blessedly hasn’t changed a bit, set to a rollicking techno synth score.
Awesome is probably the most overused word on the internet, and I’m one of the culprits, so I’m sorry (not sorry) for saying this: Turbo Kid is awesome.