Category Archives: Highly Recommended

The Cosmopolitans (2014, Whit Stillman)

The Cosmopolitans opens with some visual sarcasm, but it quickly moves to verbal. Writer-director Stillman is somewhat merciless, introducing characters just to comment on the absurd pretentiousness of the principals. Of course, Stillman doesn’t let the observers off easy either. It just takes longer for them to become clear; maybe the American leads are just too obvious.

Cosmopolitans is a series pilot (which, tragically, did not get picked up) and Stillman does spend time establishing his characters. But he doesn’t have much of an epical structure–they meet, they talk, they go to a party–and Stillman’s got no urgency with divulging. More information doesn’t necessarily make the characters more entertaining or more affecting.

The three leads–presumably–are Adam Brody, Jordan Rountree, and Carrie MacLemore. They’re Americans in Paris. Brody and Rountree have claimed Parisian status and probably need to be treated for intense Francophilia. Rountree’s lovesick, Brody’s affably brooding. Meanwhile, MacLemore is in Paris for a guy who abandons her for his writing. Because Frenchman.

Brody and Rountree take themselves way too seriously, while MacLemore has a somewhat better sense of her situation.

Adriano Giannini plays Brody and Rountree’s older, Italian friend who spends most of his time making fun of the Americans. He’s gentle about it, as opposed to Chloë Sevigny, who’s brutal about it. Luckily, Brody and Rountree are so pretentious, they can’t identify the digs as digs. Lots of funny barbs. Lots.

Freddy Åsblom has the showy part of Brody and Rountree’s rich, native friend. He pokes fun at them without Sevigny’s loathing or Giannini’s bewilderment. He ends up with some of the funniest moments.

Of course, eventually it’s Giannini and Sevigny who get revealed–either to another character or just to the viewer (but only because Brody and Rountree are oblivious). Stillman spares no one. He maintains a light tone, affable characters, and an adoration of Paris throughout. The Cosmopolitans might mock its leads’ Francophilia, but the pilot is delightfully drenched in it.

Beautiful photography from Antoine Monod, subtle, sharp editing from Sophie Corra, a great soundtrack–it’s a technical marvel. Stillman’s composition and direction are fantastic.

MacLemore gives the best performance of the leads. Brody and Rountree are a tad shallow, MacLemore has actual backstory and some sense. It’s a better part. Giannini and Sevigny are great; Sevigny’s deliveries are awesome. And Åsblom is quite good. His role is a little more difficult than it seems at first blush.

Again, it’s tragic The Cosmopolitans didn’t go to series; what Stillman and cast and crew did get done is wonderful stuff.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, Antoine Monod; edited by Sophie Corra; produced by Alex Corven Caronia; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Carrie MacLemore (Aubrey), Adam Brody (Jimmy), Jordan Rountree (Hal), Adriano Giannini (Sandro), Freddy Åsblom (Fritz), and Chloë Sevigny (Vicky).


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Lemonade (2016, Beyoncé Knowles, Dikayl Rimmasch and Jonas Åkerlund)

A music video is not a short musical. Lemonade, identifying itself as a visual album, is not a music video (or a string of them) and it is not a musical. It borrows something from all of those mediums, with directors Knowles, Rimmasch and Åkerlund instinctively understanding how to mix and match. Lemonade is a performance, but not a film performance. It is a spectacle, but never a garish one. It’s an event, meant to be experienced as one, meant to be shared as one; it initially aired on HBO. There’s just so much going on at once with it.

Lemonade runs just under an hour. Knowles narrates, the narration adapted from Warsan Shire’s poems. The narration explains, the songs explore. But there’s the other, visual layer. It’s not just a music video because there’s cohesion between the numbers (in some ways, Lemonade might be be described as a musical video essay). Knowles is working towards something beyond the “narrative,” which involves a woman discovering and reacting to her husband’s infidelity.

It’s not the story of her self-discovery; she’s already self-discovered. It’s about her rage and joy and sadness and thoughtfulness and compassion. Lemonade is all about compassion, it’s all about understanding. It’s about Knowles’s “protagonist” ruminating, through the songs, through the visuals, questions of her very existence. Except it’s not subtextual questioning. Lemonade isn’t about being a superstar and questioning that existence, it’s about Knowles exploring the questions of being an African-American woman in the United States. Lemonade takes itself very seriously, as it well should.

The directors employ multiple aspect ratios to fantastic effect. They’re guiding the viewers, presenting each song, each visual sequence, for the viewer’s intelligent consumption. It’s impossible to imagine not paying attention to Lemonade. But Knowles, Rimmasch and Åkerlund know how to keep it inviting. Editor Bill Yukich does peerless work here–every cut is outstanding, whether it’s between aspect ratio, shots of the same sequence, shots from different sequences. It’s beyond graceful.

To put it in terms of film jargon, Lemonade is a little like if you made a musical version of a twenty-first century Terrence Malick movie, only employing mostly tone and narration devices from Badlands. The filmmaking has to hit a consistent level of precision in order for its sincerity to work. And the sincerity is the goal, which just makes the filmmaking more ambitious.

To be hyperbolic (but accurate), you don’t watch Lemonade as much as experience it. It captivates visually and narratively. Only the narrative turns out to be a lot different than what the first act implies. Though act isn’t the correct term, because Lemonade sort of creates itself as it goes along.

It’s very difficult to explain; you’d just have to see it. And you should.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Beyoncé Knowles, Dikayl Rimmasch and Jonas Åkerlund; adapted by Warshan Shire; directors of photography, Khalik Allah, Par Ekberg, Santiago Gonzalez, Chayse Irvin, Reed Morano, Rimmasch and Malik Hassan Sayeed; edited by Bill Yukich; production designers, Jason Hougaard and Jc Molina; produced by Keenan Flynn and Jonathan Lia; aired by Home Box Office.


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Welcome to Eltingville (2002, Chuck Sheetz)

“Welcome to Eltingville.” You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You must be cautious. I suppose the first thing to say about “Eltingville” is it has a very, very limited audience. It’s a spoof of fan culture from the inside. It’s knowingly spoofing the absurd.

It’s not just spoofing the idea of obnoxious fan culture, it’s spoofing the idea of spoofing that culture. Writer Evan Dorkin (the pilot is based on his long-running comic book series) has to limbo through all the references and who gets to say them. It’s a really sharp, really tight script. The time flies by, but “Eltingville” still has time to make distinct impressions.

Excellent voice acting from Jason Harris and Troy Metcalf in the leads. In the supporting parts, Corey Brill and Larc Spies aren’t anywhere near as impression. It’s partially because of Dorkin’s script, partially because Brill has nothing to do and a lot because Spies isn’t giving a performance, he’s doing an accent. But they’re fine enough. They’re still funny when they need to be funny.

“Eltingville” is an awesome twenty minutes. Though I can see why it didn’t get picked up to series. There’s just too small an audience for a show.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Sheetz; written by Evan Dorkin; music by Denis M. Hannigan; aired by Adult Swim.

Starring Jason Harris (Bill Dickey), Troy Metcalf (Josh Levy), Larc Spies (Pete DiNunzio), Corey Brill (Jerry Stokes) and Tara Sands (Jane Dickey).


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Ash vs. The DC Dead (2016, Brian Rosenthal)

I don’t want to “geek out” when I talk about Ash vs. The DC Dead. It might be embarrassing someday. But it’s hard not to be impressed with director Rosenthal’s ability to find the perfect combination of source material to reference. While the short has David VonHippchen’s Ash facing off against big blue DC super-anti-hero Lobo (Derek Russo), the most interesting stuff isn’t Russo or their showdown. Russo’s fine, but he’s not great. It’s a bad part. Rosenthal just needs the right antagonist for VonHippchen to make an impressive short–a lot of DC Dead, if it isn’t intentional, is real showy. In a good way. Rosenthal knows what he’s doing and he should be showy, because he’s inviting the viewer to be impressed.

And even though DC Dead references the “Arrow” TV show, the Green Lantern movie, the Tim Burton Batman movies–not to mention Spider-Man (female lead Lindsay Croucher is Gwen Stacy)–the coolest thing about DC Dead is its Evil Dead sensibilities. Rosenthal’s able to get away with questionable effects because he’s doing a low budget Evil Dead movie. You always give those the benefit of the doubt (because you always have).

Only VonHippchen doesn’t get the best arc; Croucher goes from his annoyed sidekick to his savior (with a wonderful, appropriate final development) and she’s pretty good in the part. There’s some inherent silliness it occasionally stumbles over, but Croucher and Rosenthal work through it.

Ash vs. The DC Dead is awesome. But it’s for a limited audience. Rosenthal’s really good at filmmaking, which can be appreciated without understanding the minutiae, and makes it worth a look alone. You just aren’t going to grin as much as you would if you got the references.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed, photographed and edited by Brian Rosenthal; music by Karl Anderson; production designer, David VonHippchen; produced by Duke Stephenson.

Starring David VonHippchen (Ash Williams), Derek Russo (Lobo), Lindsay Croucher (Gwen Stacy), Joshua Borcyk (Green Arrow) and Marian Gonzalez (Cassie).


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