DVD/Stream of the Week: LAND HO! – rowdy geezer roadtrip to Iceland

Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson in LAND HO!

Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson in LAND HO!

Here’s a really fun movie. Land Ho! features a vibrant and irascible geezer who conscripts an old friend into a rowdy road trip to – of all random places – Iceland. It’s a showcase for Earl Lynn Nelson, who essentially plays himself in the movie. Nelson is a 72-year-old Kentucky doctor who is a force of nature and has possibly an even dirtier mind than The Movie Gourmet’s. He is a friend of the 29-year-old writer director Martha Stephens who was INSPIRED to see the possibilities in sending him off on an adventure and filming the results. His friend (and ex-brother-in-law) is played by an actor, Paul Eenhoorn.

It all works. Nelson – an unapologetic hedonist – is funnier than hell, and Eenhoorn stays right with him as the more reserved and sometimes aggrieved buddy. Land Ho! is a string of LOL moments, whether Nelson is providing politically incorrect fashion advice to young women or unsolicited marital advice to a honeymooning couple or pulling out a joint and proclaiming “It’s time for some doobiefication”.

This is a geezer comedy that doesn’t make the geezers cute. Nelson may be a piece of work, but there’s nothing in Land Ho! that isn’t genuine.

I just have two knocks on the movie. It’s only 95 minutes long, but it would be crisper at about 87. And, as The Wife pointed out, there’s really no need for the huge jarring subtitles to let us know precisely where these guys are in Iceland.

Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch. The audience at Sundance loved this movie, and I think Land Ho! is a hoot-and-a-half. Land Ho! is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.

{Note: I got the meet and spend some time with Paul Eenhorn at Cinequest 2015, when he was premiering his film In the Company of Women. Great guy.]

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OKJA: a girl and her supermutant pet flee from corporate greed

OKJA

OKJA

Okja is a master filmmaker’s wickedly biting anti-corporate satire.  It’s an endearing Girl-And-Her-Supermutant story with one of the best comic chase scenes since What’s Up, Doc?.  Okja also carries a strident anti-meat-eating message (see my diatribe several paragraphs below).

Director Bong Joon Ho made Memories of Murder, which I consider a masterpiece of neo-noir and of both the cop buddy and serial killer sub-genres. I have Memories of Murder at #14 on my Best Movies of the 21st Century – So Far. I also loved his affecting drama Mother. As with the sci-fi hit Snowpiercer, Bong Joon Ho got a Hollywood budget for Okja so his imagination could run wild.

And run wild he does.  A malevolent and monstrous corporation has engineered “superpigs” for future human consumption.  In a scheme to “Green wash” the product, they have distributed the least disturbing-looking of these freaks to be raised by indigenous farmers around the world.  One of the superpigs, a female named Okja, is raised on a verdant Korean mountainside by the girl Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn) and her grandfather,  Mija and Okja are best friends.  But Mija will need to find a way to thwart the corporate baddies who have planned all along to turn Okja into mutant bacon.

The chubby and clumsy Okja, created by a first-rate Korean CGI crew, is instantly lovable for her love for and loyalty to Mija – they even spoon at bedtime.  Okja looks and moves  more like a hippo than a pig, which makes the movie’s point about genetic engineering while keeping her adorable.

Most of Okja is pretty funny.  It opens with the artificially happy music of an industrial film (one imagines a title like Your Friend the Manhole).  There’s a slacker Millennial with the worst possible attitude for an employee, sure to be recognized by any boss in the audience. The humor ranges from the sly and cutting corporate satire to the literally scatological comedy when Okja expels manure.

The funniest part of Okja is a cell of sweetly earnest and deluded radical animal rights activists, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), led by Jay (Paul Dano).  One of their members  is so committed to erasing the human impact on the planet that he refuses to eat anything from animals OR plants, and has to be periodically force-fed by his companions when he passes out from malnutrition.  The ALF plans elaborate actions, like repeated rescues of Okja, that play out in mad cap craziness that brings to mind the best of Mack Sennett and Richard Lester.

Okja’s highlight is a chase scene that begins in a tunnel and ends in an underground mall in Seoul.  It’s a triumph of zany thrills.

Tilda Swinton plays twin sisters who are heirs to a vile robber baron industrialist and, with great relish, Swinton depicts them to represent contrasting faces of modern capitalism. One is the corporate leader who wants to make money by exploiting the rest of us, but wants to be loved for it and be perceived as benign; I know a big business leader who continually describes himself as of “the employer community”.  The other is the type of unapologetic, Social Darwinist corporate villain who just doesn’t care what we think – if it has value, she wants it and she will take it.

Seo-hyun Ahn is appropriately steely as the spunky Mija.  Paul Dano is lovable as the clumsily passionate activist leader.  A very broad Jake Gyllenhall plays a corporate spokesman at once despicable, dissolute and ridiculous in his 1970s shorts.

There’s one superb performance in Okja that is escaping critical notice.  Giancarlo Esposito plays Frank, the chief henchman and corporate advisor to both of the twin sister CEOs.   Frank is a master of “managing up”, and one scene in which he spurs a CEO to adopt his idea – and really, really believe that she thought up herself – is brilliantly funny.  In a movie filled with very broad performances, Esposito underplays Frank to great effect.

I do have a problem with Okja’s militant anti-meat perspective.  I advocate knowing where our food comes from, whether it’s the sweet corn that I buy at my farmer’s market from a farmer in Brentwood, California, or the preserved lemons I buy in a jar from Egypt.  Today less than 2% of Americans live on farms, but in my parents’ day, pretty much everyone had experienced firsthand the butchering of meat.

Humans have been eating meat since we could catch another animal (or stumble across one that was already dead).  There is no way to eat meat without killing an animal, skinning and bleeding it and cutting it up.  Even chicken and steers and pigs that are raised free-range, fed organic corn and yada yada still have to be killed and cut up somewhere – they don’t jump into those shrink-wrapped packages themselves.  All that being said, I understand that some people prefer not to see this.

I have toured a meat-packing plant, and the slaughterhouse in Okja is a pretty accurate depiction of the process, although the lighting has been dimmed for a more sinister effect.  I have also seen animals slaughtered for dinner on an All-American family farm, and the slaughterhouse is much cleaner and arguably more humane.

Still, even in Okja, Mija catches fish for dinner, and her grandfather raises – and cooks – chickens.  I respect the members of my own family who choose not to eat animals.  But I think that Okja runs astray by making this perfectly reasonable choice into a moral litmus test.

Some folks will also have a problem with the movie’s extreme changes in tone.  The Animal Liberation Front’s Seoul rescue scene has a very Keystone Kops vibe, where nobody gets hurt.  In the Manhattan chase scene, however, commandos rain down realistic and brutal violence upon the Animal Liberation Front, making the point that corporate forces play for keeps.

I do NOT recommend Okja for children younger than middle school-aged, for whom the slaughterhouse scenes could be traumatizing.

There’s ONE MORE scene at the very end of the closing credits, so stick around.

I saw Okja at a theatrical preview, courtesy of the Camera Cinema Club; most viewers are going to watch this at home on Netflix, but I recommend viewing Okja on the big screen if you get the chance.

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Movies to See Right Now

THE WOMEN'S BALCONY

THE WOMEN’S BALCONY


In theaters this week:

  • The delightfully smart and character-driven Israeli comedy The Women’s Balcony with a community of traditional women in revolt. The longer you’ve been married, the funnier you’ll find The Women’s Balcony.
  • The David and Goliath documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, the riveting story of an American family business bullied into a nightmarish fight for survival.
  • The bittersweet dramedy The Hero has one thing going for it – the wonderfully appealing Sam Elliott.

Here’s my contribution to the argument about the Best 25 Movies of the 21st Century.

My Stream of the Week won the Oscar for Best Documentary feature.  Searching for Sugar Man is the story of a Detroit construction laborer who didn’t know that he was a rock star. You can stream it from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On June 27, Turner Classic Movies presents the iconic 1946 film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice.  An essential element in film noir is a guy’s lust for a Bad Girl driving him to a Bad Decision, and when John Garfield first sees Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, you can tell that he’s hooked.  She’s a Bad Girl, and a Bad Decision is on its way.

John Garfield's first look at Lana Turner in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

John Garfield’s first look at Lana Turner in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

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Stream of the Week: SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN – he didn’t know he was a rock star

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

What a story! A Detroit construction laborer named Sixto Rodriguez was also a singer-songwriter who cut two albums in 1970 and 1971. The albums didn’t sell in the US, and he faded back into obscurity. Yet in South Africa – completely isolated by the sanctions of the apartheid era – the artist known as Rodriguez became huge, and his songs fueled a protest movement. Rodriguez never knew of his success, and South Africans believed that he had suffered a dramatic rock star death. The powerful documentary Searching for Sugar Man is the story of some stubborn South African music geeks trying to find out what really happened to Rodriguez, and the startling truths that they uncovered. (The title comes from Rodriguez’ most iconic anthem, the song Sugar Man.)

I have never seen a biographical documentary of a contemporary figure with less comment from the subject himself. There is a brief filmed interview with the eccentric Rodriguez, who reveals very little of his perspective on his own story. His songs can only be written by a reflective person, but Rodriguez is the farthest thing from self-absorbed. Still, the interviews with his family, friends and fans and his songs help us feel like we know him.

It’s a flabbergasting and unpredictable story and well told. Sadly, the young director Malik Bendjelloul suddenly died just fifteen months after Searching for Sugan Man won the Best Documentary Oscar. You can stream it from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

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Farewell to Flounder

Stephen Furst (center) in ANIMAL HOUSE

Stephen Furst (center) in ANIMAL HOUSE

The actor Stephen Furst had 88 screen credits, but none more iconic than the role in his second feature film:  Kent “Flounder” Dorfman in Animal House.

“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

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Movies to See Right Now

THE WOMEN'S BALCONY

THE WOMEN’S BALCONY

In theaters this week:

  • The delightfully smart and character-driven Israeli comedy The Women’s Balcony with a community of traditional women in revolt.  The longer you’ve been married, the funnier you’ll find The Women’s Balcony.
  • The David and Goliath documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, the riveting story of an American family business bullied into a nightmarish fight for survival.
  • Paris Can Wait, a female fantasy with glorious French cuisine to tantalize all genders.
  • You can still find Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer in theaters, perhaps Richard Gere’s best movie performance ever, and strongly recommended.
  • The bittersweet dramedy The Hero has one thing going for it – the wonderfully appealing Sam Elliott.

Here’s my contribution to the argument about the Best 25 Movies of the 21st Century.

School is out for the summer, and my DVD/Streams of the Week are the two surfing documentaries Step Into Liquid and Riding Giants.  Both are available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Here’s an interesting nugget from Turner Classic Movies on June 17. Three different actors play Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled LA detective Philip Marlowe: Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, James Garner in Marlowe and Robert Montgomery in Lady in the Lake.

The most famous – and my favorite – of these is The Big Sleep, with its iconic performance by Bogart and its impenetrably tangled plot. It’s also one of the most overtly sexual noirs, and Lauren Bacall at her sultriest is only the beginning. The achingly beautiful Martha Vickers plays a druggie who throws herself at anything in pants. And Dorothy Malone invites Bogie to share a back-of-the-bookstore quickie.

Lady in the Lake is more cinematically inventive.  Shot entirely from the point of view of the protagonist detective (Montgomery), we never see him except when reflected in mirrors. Even without this interesting gadget, it’s a good movie. Audrey Totter plays one of her iconic noir Bad Girls.

Marlowe is less distinguished a film, but James Garner is always watchable.

Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP

Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP

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THE WOMEN’S BALCONY: a righteous man must keep his woman happy

THE WOMEN'S BALCONY

THE WOMEN’S BALCONY

A community of women in a traditional culture revolt in the delightfully smart and funny Israeli comedy The Women’s Balcony.   The balcony in a small Jerusalem synagogue  collapses, and the building is condemned.  The old rabbi’s wife is seriously injured, and he suffers a trauma-induced psychotic breakdown.  Just when it looks like the leaderless congregation will die, a young and charismatic rabbi (Avraham Aviv Alush) appears, enlivens the congregation and repairs the building.  But he rebuilds the synagogue WITHOUT the women’s section.  Profoundly disrespected, the synagogue’s women strike in protest.

The women live in a culture where males have all the power and religious authority trumps all.  The women all have their individually distinct gifts, personalities and rivalries. But they all appreciate the injustice of the situation, and they are really pissed off.  They are very creative in finding way to leverage the power that they do have, and the result is very, very funny.

This could have been a very broad comedy (and a Lysistrata knock-off).  Instead, it’s richly textured, with an examination of ethical behavior and loving relationships.  It’s also dotted with comments on the relations between Israeli Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox and on the importance of food in this culture.  It’s the first – and very promising – feature for both director Emil Ben-Shimon and writer Shlomit Nehana.

THE WOMEN'S BALCONY

THE WOMEN’S BALCONY

There are plenty LOL moments, including a scene where one of the congregants masquerades as the demented old rabbi to secure the needed psychotropic meds.

We soon understand that the young rabbi has a very unattractive side – grossly sexist and power-hungry. But he has seduced the men and then cows them by manipulating his religious authority. He’s tearing apart a closely bound community braided together by decades of deep friendship and inter-reliance. The movie turns on whether the men can recognize when his supposed righteousness veers into what is really unethical and, in one pivotal scene with the old rabbi, indecent.

Two of the male characters, deeply in love with their women, step up and do the right thing. This overt comedy has a very a romantic core.

Most of all, The Women’s Balcony is about mature relationships. Most of these couples have been married for decades, especially the couple at the core of the story, Ettie (Evein Hagoel) and Zion (Igal Naor). Ben-Shimon and Nehana prove themselves to be keen and insightful observers of long-lasting relationships.

A righteous man must keep his woman happy. This may not be written in the Holy Scriptures, but it’s damn useful advice. (It also helps, we learn, if he can make a mean fruit salad.) The longer you’ve been married, the funnier you’ll find The Women’s Balcony.

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Best Movies of the 21st Century – So Far

Patricia Arquette and Eller Coltrane in BOYHOOD

Patricia Arquette and Eller Coltrane in BOYHOOD

Okay – here’s a first class Argument Starter.  In the past week, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott released their list of The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far.  And it seems that everyone is weighing in with their own lists.  Me, too.

Of course I agreed with some of the NYT picks (Boyhood, The Hurt Locker, Million Dollar Baby, Spirited Away). But I thought they picked the wrong Coen brothers movie (the dreadful Inside Llewyn Davis instead of any other Coen brothers film) and the wrong Dardennes brothers movie (The Child instead of The Kid with a Bike or The Son). Moonlight and Mad Max: Fury Road are just too 2017-trendy.  I’m skeptical of their three Chinese and Taiwanese films that I haven’t seen (although I have some obscure picks on my list, too).

I found less fault with the accompanying article, Six Directors Pick Their Favorite Films of the 21st-Century.  I particularly dovetailed with Sophia Coppola’s choices of Ida, Grizzly Man, Force Majeure, Fish Tank and Ex Machina.

So, just for shits and giggles, here’s The Movie Gourmet’s Best 25 Movies of this Millennium (so far).

  1. Boyhood
  2. Million Dollar Baby
  3. Minority Report
  4. Winter’s Bone
  5. Ida
  6. Sideways
  7. Hell or High Water
  8. 25th Hour
  9. The Hurt Locker
  10. Ex Machina
  11. Best in Show
  12. The Kid on a Bike
  13. Gosford Park
  14. Memories of Murder
  15. Children of Men
  16. Spirited Away
  17. Monster’s Ball
  18. Toy Story 3
  19. Stories We Tell
  20. A Serious Man
  21. Grizzly Man
  22. Talk to Her
  23. I’ve Loved You So Long
  24. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  25. Blue is the Warmest Color

Just missed:  Margaret, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Secrets in Their Eyes, Incendies, Monster, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Take Shelter, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Crash, Traffic, After the Wedding, Away from Her, Mystic River, Wild Tales and The Hunt.

Jennifer lawrence breaks through in WINTER'S BONE, featured at the Camera Cinema Club

Jennifer Lawrence breaks through in WINTER’S BONE, featured at the Camera Cinema Club


IDA

IDA


Michael Polley in STORIES WE TELL

Michael Polley in STORIES WE TELL

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THE HERO: taking ones own measure

Sam Elliott in THE HERO

Sam Elliott in THE HERO

The bittersweet dramedy The Hero has one thing going for it – Sam Elliott, he of the profoundly deep and sexy voice.  Elliot has a rascal’s sparkle in his eye and a smile that can make panties slide off by themselves.  He pulls off a mustache that would be ridiculed on any other man walking the earth.

In The Hero, Elliott plays Lee, a selfish screen actor of Elliott’s real age (73).  Lee has made “one film I’m proud of” – a Western from forty years ago titled “The Hero“.  Now, in a hilarious Sam-Elliott-winks-at-himself, Lee is relegated to doing commercial voice-overs, his buttery tones hawking a supermarket BBQ sauce.  He has left some relationship carnage in the wake of his career : an ex-wife (Elliott’s real-life wife Katharine Ross) and an estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) in his wake.  And his best friend is his pot dealer (Nick Offerman).

Lee receives a very, very bad cancer diagnosis (even for cancer).   Contemplating – or avoiding contemplating – the end of his life, he is forced to take his own measure.  He knows that he’s “The Hero” on-screen but angry daughter knows well enough that he’s no hero off-screen, and so does he.

He finds himself fascinating a younger woman (Laura Prepon – Alex from Orange Is the New Black and Donna in The 70s Show).  And he stumbles into a viral social media frenzy that promises to reignite his career when it’s too late. But what he hungers for the most is patching things up with his daughter.

Lots of drugs are consumed in this movie, mostly massive amounts of marijuana going up  in smoke.  The Hero’s dream sequences are already vivid and then Lee takes shrooms… Lee becomes the guest star for a bottom-scraping fan group event, and shows up totally high on Molly; the scene is hilarious.

Elliott’s movie debut was playing Card Player #2 in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  His career went through a hunky phase, but then blossomed in Elliott’s middle age with an indelible performance in 1993’s Gettysburg and then Tombstone, The Big Lebowski, We Were Soldiers, I’ll See You in My Dreams and last year’s Grandma, of which I wrote “worth seeing for ten minutes of Sam Elliott”.

I saw The Hero at the Camera Cinema Club.  There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before. But then it’s usually worth watching Sam Elliott again, anyway.

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DVD/Stream of the Week: hang ten this summer!

Let’s go surfin’ now

Everybody’s learning how

Come on and safari with me

It’s a great time for the two most awesome and gnarly surfing movies, the documentaries Step Into Liquid and Riding Giants.

Step Into Liquid (2003): We see the world’s best pro surfers in the most extreme locations. We also see devoted amateurs in the tiny ripples of Lake Michigan and surfing evangelists teaching Irish school children. The cinematography is remarkable – critic Elvis Mitchell called the film “insanely gorgeous”. The filmmaker is Dana Brown, son of Bruce Brown, who made The Endless Summer (1966) and The Endless Summer II (1994).

Step Into Liquid is available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Riding Giants (2004): This film focuses on the obsessive search for the best wave by some of the greatest surfers in history. We see “the biggest wave ever ridden” and then a monster that could be bigger. The movie traces the discovery of the Half Moon Bay surf spot Mavericks. And more and more, all wonderfully shot.

The filmmaker is Stacy Peralta, a surfer and one the pioneers of modern skateboarding (and a founder of the Powell Peralta skateboard product company). Peralta also made Dogtown and Z-boys (2001), the great documentary about the roots of skateboarding, and wrote the 2005 Lords of Dogtown.

Riding Giants is also available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

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