Category Archives: Dramedy

Tribeca 2022: My Love Affair With Marriage ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

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It’s a safe bet that the most oft-asked question throughout history (well, after “Where’s the restroom?”) is “What is love?”. Philosophers, poets, writers, psychologists and even scientists have tackled this age-old query, and come up with just as many disparate explanations. This lack of consensus informs the clever conceit behind animator Signe Baumane’s mixed-media feature.

Baumane’s semi-autobiographical study follows “Zelma” as she navigates the various passages of sexual self-awareness from childhood to adulthood…which then presents her with the complexities of love and relationships. Zelma’s vignettes are interspersed with neuroscience/biochemistry analyses done in the style of high school educational films (remember those?), with the odd musical number thrown in. Funny, touching and insightful.

Tribeca 2022: Nude Tuesday ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

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I must warn you: this film is complete gibberish. Literally…the dialog is spoken in a made-up language. Frankly, I was fully prepared to find this gimmick annoying, but thankfully a) there are subtitles and b) the film is nonetheless entertaining.

Writer-director Armagan Ballantyne’s off-the wall dramedy concerns middle-aged couple Laura and Bruno (co-screenwriter Jackie van Beek and Damon Harriman), who have hit a roadblock in their marriage. Bruno’s mother browbeats them into attending a couple’s retreat, to rekindle their passion. The resort is lorded over by a free-spirited sex guru (played with aplomb by Jemaine Clement). Vacillating between riotous cringe comedy and surprising sweetness, the film also pokes gentle fun at “self-actualization” culture (reminiscent of Bill Persky’s 1980 satire Serial).

Tribeca 2022: We Might As Well Be Dead **½

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

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We might as well be deadpan. Natalia Sinelnikova’s (political satire? black comedy? psychological thriller?) was a puzzler for me.  Or maybe it caught me on a bad day. An insular community of apartment building residents turn on each other after one resident’s dog goes missing. The building’s live-in security person (Ioana Iacob) desperately tries to corral the creeping paranoia and hysteria.

Her stress is exacerbated by her daughter, who has locked herself in the bathroom and informed Mom that she has “the evil eye” and is cursed by effective thoughts and dreams. While Sinelnikova and co-screenwriter Viktor Gallandi make intriguing allusions to Stasi-era East Germany and the Jewish diaspora, the film never gels; at best, it’s a glorified remake of the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.

SIFF 2022: Day by Day (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 23, 2022)

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Felix Herngren’s dramedy (scripted by Tapio Leopold) is a delightful, life-affirming road movie about…death. Before a terminally ill man (Sven Wallter) can make his getaway for a solo trip to a Swiss assisted-suicide clinic, several of his longtime friends at the retirement home catch wind of his plans, and it turns into a group outing (much to his chagrin). Lovely European travelogue (nicely photographed by Viktor Davidson). Funny and touching (yes …I laughed, I cried). Sadly, Wallter passed away soon after the film wrapped, adding poignancy to his performance.

Blu-ray reissue: Rancho Deluxe (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2021)

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Rancho Deluxe (Vinegar Syndrome)

This criminally underappreciated 1975 Frank Perry comedy-drama sports a marvelously droll original screenplay by novelist Thomas McGuane. Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston star as modern-day cattle rustlers in Montana. Loose and episodic…just like life on the range, I’d reckon (with the odd bit of toking up and kinky sex tossed in just for giggles).

Wonderful ensemble work from a cast that includes Elizabeth Ashley, Slim Pickens, Clifton James, Charlene Dallas, Patti D’Arbanville, Richard Bright and the late great Harry Dean Stanton (memorable as a love-struck cow hand).

One of the “stars” of the film is Willam A. Fraker’s cinematography, which didn’t get its proper due on the lackluster MGM DVD released in 2000. Vinegar Syndrome’s transfer is a new 2K restoration taken from the 35mm interpostive, and it really makes those gorgeous “big sky” Montana locales pop. Extras include commentary by Nick Pinkerton, a new 20-minute interview with Bridges, and a 10-minute chat with McGuane.

When you’re young: The Pebble and the Boy (***½)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 13, 2021)

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Reporter : Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo : Um, no. I’m a mocker.

-from A Hard Day’s Night, screenplay by Alun Owen

Having grown up in the colonies, I didn’t grok “Mods and Rockers” until 1973, the year I bought The Who’s Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend’s paean to the teenage Mod subculture that flourished in the U.K. from the late 50s to mid-60s. The Mods had very distinct musical preferences (jazz, ska, R&B, soul), couture, and modes of transportation:

My jacket’s gonna be cut slim and checked
Maybe a touch of seersucker with an open neck
I ride a G.S. scooter with my hair cut neat
I wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet

– from “Sea and Sand”, by The Who

On occasion the Mods would rumble with members of another youth subculture who identified as “Rockers”. They were not as tailored as the Mods but had their own uniforms…let’s just say that they were into leather (as in Tuscadero), motorcycles (as opposed to scooters), and 50s rock (Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, et.al.).

Here come duck-tailed Danny dragging Uncanny Annie
She’s tehone with the flying feet
You can break the peace daddy sickle grease
The beat is reet complete

– from “Sweet Gene Vincent”, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads

By the time the Who were rhapsodizing about the Mods in their 1973 rock opera, the movement was all but relegated to the dustbins of history. In 1979, Franc Roddam’s film adaptation of Quadrophenia was released. Using the 1964 Brighton “youth riots” as a catalyst, Roddam fashioned a character study in the tradition of the “kitchen sink” dramas that flourished in the U.K. in the early 60s. Wonderfully acted by a spirited cast, it’s a heady mix of youthful angst and raging hormones, supercharged by the power chord-infused grandeur of the Who’s songs.

Here is where it gets interesting. Not long after Roddam’s film began to build a cult following in the U.K., a Mod revival took hold. It may be more accurate to call it a “post” Mod movement, as this iteration was more about co-opting the couture than embracing the culture. Did the film inspire this revival? Some have suggested it did.

While the Who was the band of choice for the original Mods, the 80s Mods embraced bands like The Jam, Secret Affair, and The Chords. Not coincidentally, all 3 of those bands are on the soundtrack for writer-director Chris Green’s comedy-drama The Pebble and the Boy.

19-year-old Mancunian John (Patrick McNamee) is not a Mod. But his father was, from the 1980s until his recent unfortunate demise in a traffic accident. John not only inherits his father’s house (his parents are divorced), but his Lambretta scooter, fully bedecked with Mod accoutrements. Coming home after the funeral, John contemplates his father’s bedroom, which is done up like a shrine to The Jam (John only likes “one of their songs”).

Initially, John puts the Lambretta up for sale, but after discovering a pair of tickets in his father’s wartime coat for an upcoming Paul Weller concert in Brighton, he decides that he will ride it to “the spiritual home of the Mods” and scatter his father’s ashes in the sea.

Not long after he leaves Manchester, the scooter displays signs of needing a tune-up, so he looks up one his father’s pals from the Mod days (“Your dad and I first met at a Jam gig in ’81,” he reminisces to John). When his outgoing daughter Nicki (scene-stealer Sacha Parkinson) learns John has Paul Weller tickets, she invites herself along (she has her own scooter). After a few road trip misadventures (usually instigated by the free-spirited Nicki), the pair find themselves short of funds for completing their journey.

The more reserved John wants to turn back, but Nicki suggests they stop in nearby Woking (the Jam’s hometown, of course) to borrow money from Ronnie (Ricci Harnett), another of John’s father’s friends from the Mod days. The somewhat surly Ronnie and his, uh …friendly wife (Patsy Kensit) invite them to stay the night. The next day, John and Nicki hit the road to Brighton, now joined by Ronnie’s oddball son Logan (Max Boast).

Green’s film is like a mashup of Johnathan Demme’s Something Wild and Adam Rifkin’s Detroit Rock City. Green’s writing and directing is reminiscent of Bill Forsyth in the way he juggles low-key anarchy with gentle humor (even when someone says, “Fuck off!” it’s so good natured, somehow). McNamee is an appealing lead (he reminds me of the young Timothy Hutton), but it’s Parkinson’s sly performance as the endearingly boisterous Nicki that kicks the film up a notch. Rubber-faced Boast is another discovery; he’s a riot.

The bucolic English countryside and Brighton seascapes are gorgeously shot by cinematographer Max Williams (not too surprising after seeing that his previous credits include documentaries for Discovery, National Geographic and the BBC). Add a great soundtrack, and The Pebble and the Boy emerges as one of my favorite films of 2021.

“The Pebble and the Boy” premieres November 16 on various digital platforms.

Tribeca 2021: Wild Men (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19. 2021)

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Every film festival has at least one quirky road movie (it’s a rule). Danish director Thomas Daneskov’s (wait for it) quirky road movie concerns Martin, a white-collar worker who flips his lid and heads to the Norwegian hinterlands to gather nuts and berries (sans wife and kids). After a day or two, failing to bring down any wild game with his homemade bow and arrow, he’s craving protein and heads for the nearest convenience store (looking like a cross between Dilbert and Hagar the Horrible). Unfortunately, he’s forgotten his wallet and despite honest intentions ends up in an altercation with the manager and ultimately on the run from the cops. Fate puts him on a path with an injured drug runner, and a male bonding/buddy film ensues. An entertaining dramedy with a Coen Brothers vibe, mixed with typically deadpan Scandinavian humor.

Cheap thrills: The Paper Tigers (***½) & In Action (**)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 8, 2021)

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It’s been a while (like never) since I’ve seen a kickass Kickstarter-funded martial arts movie that was filmed in my back yard. Full disclosure: Writer-director Quoc Bao Tran’s The Paper Tigers wasn’t literally filmed in my back yard…but it was shot here in Seattle.

Tran subtly subverts Hollywood tropes by re-imagining The Karate Kid through the sensibilities of Chan is Missing in this tale of three friends, all former teenage kung fu champions now riddled with the baggage and creeping infirmities of middle age.

The one-time star of the trio is Danny (Alain Uy) a divorced suburban dad with a drudge office job that keeps him tethered to his cell phone, even when he is trying to enjoy quality time with his young son on weekends (his ex is not pleased). Wisecracking Hing (Ron Yuan) was specially trained in the arts of ancient Chinese healing but is now barely ambulatory due to an accident and subsisting on disability checks. Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) is the most physically fit of the lot, but still suffers the odd pull, creak, or tweak.

The men have gone their separate ways in their adult lives. Danny and Hing have kept in touch, but Danny and Jim have not been on speaking terms since an incident that took place on the eve of a martial arts tournament the then-teenage trio was attending in Japan.

However, when they learn that the recent death of their beloved “sifu” (kung fu teacher) may have involved foul play, the trio decide to put aside differences, get the band back together and launch their own investigation to find the culprit and avenge (if applicable).

While that setup may sound cliché…well, it is. But what separates Tran’s film from most martial arts fare is its character development, gentle social commentary, smart (and frequently hilarious) dialog, and surprising warmth. Don’t despair, action fans…there are still plenty of fight scenes, all expertly choreographed and genuinely exciting to watch.

The three leads are appealing and have great chemistry. Even the “bad guys” of the piece are three-dimensional; particularly Danny’s long-time nemesis (played with aplomb by Matt Page (creator of the martial arts comedy web series “Enter The Dojo”). Frankly, I did not expect to enjoy The Paper Tigers so much, but I, erm…really got a kick out of it!

“The Paper Tigers” is now playing on various digital platforms.

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There are “low budget” movies, and there are “no budget” movies. Not that it makes a difference in the quality of what ends up on screen; some of my all-time favorite films are low-budget or no-budget wonders. Sadly, In Action will not be joining them this evening.

Billed as an “action film” with tongue-in-cheek, In Action is predicated on a one-joke premise that its budget is so low (“How low is it, Johnny?”) that nearly all its “action” is implied, rather than shown…most of what you are watching onscreen is inaction (get it?).

What you are mostly seeing onscreen are the occasionally gore-spattered mugs of co-writer-director-stars Sean Kenealy and Eric Silvera, who play (wait for it) Sean and Eric, two aspiring filmmakers who are brainstorming on their screenplay for an action movie. When government spooks hack into their laptops and mistake their story treatment for a terrorist plot, Sean and Eric find themselves embroiled in a real-life action film (of sorts).

It’s a clever concept, with spurts of comic inspiration using animation, hand-drawn sketches and toys, but Kenealy and Silvera’s histrionic acting goes to “11” and sustains that level for the entire film (which feels much longer than its actual 79-minute run time). The expletive-laden dialog leans heavily on insult humor of the Kevin Smith variety, but somehow lacks the panache (the film is reminiscent of Clerks, except without the laughs).

To their credit, Kenealy and Silvera do fully commit to…whatever this is. There’s always the possibility that they are utilizing some post-ironic meta-SXSW hipster shtick that I’m too out-of-touch to “get” (e.g., I never “got” Mr. Show, despite co-workers half my age insisting that I’d laugh my ass off. I watched several episodes …completely stone-faced).

Yeah, maybe I’m gettin’ too old for this shit…

“In Action” will be available on various digital platforms May 11.

 

SIFF 2021: Ladies of Steel (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

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Finnish humor is not for everybody, as it leans toward deadpan (think Jim Jarmusch, who cites Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki as an influence). This road movie/dramedy from director Pamela Tola (co-written with Aleksi Bardy) is a kind of a geriatric take on Thelma and Louise.

Fearing that she has killed her husband after beaning him with a frying pan during an argument, a 70-ish woman named Inkeri (Leena Uotila) panics and hits the road with her two older sisters in tow. Misadventures ensue…including sexual, which is not something you see onscreen very often with actors of “a certain age”. Truth be told…there is something actually quite wonderful and liberating about it.

SIFF 2021: Heist of the Century (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

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A stoner heist comedy based on a true story? Stranger things have happened. In 2006, a team of robbers hit the Banco Rio in Acassuso, Argentina. They took hostages, stole $8 million in valuables and cash and escaped in a boat despite being surrounded by 200 police. They ordered pizza and soda for the hostages, sang happy birthday to one of them, and left behind toy guns and a note saying they stole “money, not love.” If that isn’t a film begging to be made, I don’t know what is. Director Ariel Winograd and screenwriters Alex Zito and Fernando Araujo have fashioned one of the most entertaining genre entries Elmore Leonard never wrote. My festival favorite so far.