Over/Under Movies Buries ‘Death At A Funeral,’ Savors ‘Eating Raoul’ [Podcast]

Welcome to another edition of Over/Under Movies, the podcast in which we choose one overrated film and one underrated film — similar in tone, genre, style, or however we may see fit — and we discuss them.

On this episode, I’m joined by my co-host Oktay Ege Kozak to take a look at two dark comedies that deal with death in vastly different ways. We start with Frank Oz‘s 2007 farce “Death at a Funeral,” which, admittedly, on the surface is a bit of a strange choice as an “overrated.” The film was a decent worldwide hit in 2007 and garnered solid-but-not-spectacular reviews, but in the ten years since its release, it seems to find a spot on many of “Best Dark Comedies” lists. We discuss how the jokes in the film could be moved to a wedding or a bachelor party setting and wouldn’t make much of a difference, and that it merely gets by on the taboo nature of being set at a funeral. We also briefly touch on the 2010 Neil LaBute-directed remake, who ironically could have delivered on the dark promise of the premise in his heyday, but instead, the film is just as broad as its predecessor.

READ MORE: Indie Beat Talks With ‘Excursions’ Director Daniel Martinico [Podcast]

We then pivot over to Paul Bartel‘s 1982 satire “Eating Raoul,” a culture-clash, Reagan-era sendup about a milquetoast couple (Bartel and Mary Woronov) who start a dominatrix business to lure in predatory men, kill them, and rob them in order to fund their dreams of owning a restaurant. We talk about how this proudly unsubtle and absolutely hilarious live-action cartoon is both of its time, but also holds up in a society where people will justify their actions by the self-proclaimed “good-nature” of their endgame, regardless of the events that take place on said path.

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As always, thanks for listening!

  • Simon Kingsley-Holmes

    You’re right about Death at a Funeral. It’s not overrated in the sense that Avatar is overrated by any stretch of the imagination but if you mention it one or two people will have seen it and they’ll say it’s really good when it’s not at all. The jokes are laboured despite not being funny in the first place. Poor old Peter Vaughan, having to play the sweary old person (which was an old joke back then, now is unbearable). Even though the American remake is not quite a good film, it’s still ahead of the British version (p.s. I am British).

Christopher Bell

Adam Keleman Talks ‘Easy Living,’ ‘Hannibal’ Star Caroline Dhavernas & More [Indie Beat Podcast]

Knock knock. Who’s there? A new episode of Indie Beat!

A new episode of Indie Beat who?

Um…

This time around we spoke with filmmaker Adam Keleman!

The director started out with a bang, having his first short film “Going Back” premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in 2010. This short follows a failed model returning to her hometown after a long time away, focusing on all the discomfort and awkwardness that entails. It’s a tight, lean film that displayed Keleman’s talent in a very understated way — it’s a ten minute short but probably has less than ten shots, with scenes playing out mostly in a single long take. Check it out here.

Keleman took this a step further with his next short, “Long Days,” which tracks one mysterious woman over the course of a single night. Here the filmmaker employs the methodical pacing that exhibited in the previous short — along with a few homages to the great Chantal Akerman — while adding a dash of genre and dread. Give it a watch!

“Easy Living” marks both Keleman’s feature film debut and also his return to SXSW. Starring Caroline Dhavernas (“Hannibal,” “Wonderfalls”) the film follows Sherry Graham, a traveling makeup saleswoman on her way to new prospects in both her employment and love life. When these avenues end up fizzling out she finds herself in a much more precarious situation — and then decides to take control in a serious, assertive way. It’s a solid character study, one with a sense of humor and a courage to zig when you expect it to zag. It’s out now and you can grab it on iTunes and Amazon.

Adam was kind enough to chat with us about his films plus tips & tricks for budding filmmakers and also… sweet Vincent Gallo stories! Smack that play button:

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Erik McClanahan

11 Movies To See In June

Just yesterday, our team at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival put the finishing touches on their coverage. As per usual, it looked like an amazing time to be at the world’s biggest annual celebration

10 Films To See In May

Summer is here. Or, more truthfully in the movie world, Summer has been here for a while, no? I mean, come on, there’s already been a new “Fast & Furious” movie, another Disney live-action remake of “Beauty

‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ & The Career Of Noah Baumbach [Adjust Your Tracking Podcast]

Yeah, the movie news cycle has been rough lately, but change is coming (and it’s about goddamn time!) In the meantime, Netflix has just released one of its best original films…

On this episode of Adjust Of Your Tracking, Joe and I talk about the career of Noah Baumbach, a filmmaker we’ve mostly enjoyed through the years. The chat was inspired by his latest feature, the Netflix original “The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected),” which we talk about in the first half of the show while also examining which films from the writer/director work and don’t work for us. He’s a vital voice in cinema, making adult comic pictures with real edge, but this latest may just be his best effort (at least I think so!) as well as his warmest.

With this deep dive into his work (we don’t touch on everything, though, admittedly) we also found it a perfect time to bring back our special segment, HOLD UP, in which one of us chooses a film from the past that we enjoyed and see if it, in fact, holds up. And so, Joe chose for this episode that we discuss and look back at Baumbach’s first film, “Kicking And Screaming” (not the Will Ferrell soccer movie), a strong debut that we find rises above its mid-nineties signifiers and is, simply, a good movie about the college experience.

LISTEN: AYT Talks ‘Blade Runner 2049′ & ‘The Florida Project’

All episodes of Adjust Your Tracking are part of The Playlist Podcast Network and can be found on iTunes,Soundcloudand Stitcher. You can stream or download the podcast via the Soundcloud embed below or up top. You can also subscribe on iTunes to get them on the regular. Leave us a review and rating there if you’re so inclined and help spread the word on our podcast.

As always, thanks for listening!

Andrew Crump

‘1922’ Is The Most Essential Stephen King Adaptation Of 2017 [Review]

Months from now, or maybe years, we’ll probably look at Zak Hilditch’s “1922” as the most essential Stephen King adaptation produced in 2017. Competition is stiff: Andy Muschietti’s “It” and Mike Flanagan’s “Gerald’s Game,” respectively released in theaters and on Netflix in September, both successfully translate King’s work from page to screen, no small feat being as consensus qualifies their source materials as “unfilmable.” (Grant that Nikolaj Arcel’s attempt at turning “The Dark Tower” into cinema failed spectacularly, but grant also that perhaps he had a tougher assignment.)

Muschietti’s aesthetic sense and broadcasted scares make “It” feel like a spooky carnival ride. Flanagan’s humanity enhances the horror of “Gerald’s Game.” They’re an altogether superb pair of King interpretations that maintain faith to his vision in spite of minor divergences they make from their texts. But “1922,” in contrast to its screen cousins, hews closest to the King story it’s based on, one of the quartet of novellas published in the collection “Full Dark, No Stars” back in 2010; it’s the purest version of its original author’s purpose, and affirmation that the very best King stories don’t endure because of raw commercial appeal but because of his impressive talent for fostering suspense, sustaining mood, and drilling down to his characters’ interior particulars. The guy knows what scares us, and what scares us most is usually, well, us.

“1922” follows this idea all the way to its darkest logical conclusion, spinning a tale of a man who engineers his family’s destruction, as well as his own, by way of self-interest. Demonic cannibal clowns lurking in sewers are high up there on the all-time list of stuff that’s scary; hallucinations of your dead pervert husband, plus a deformed phantasm, have a special spot in that collection, too. But there’s a category of horror that exists to remind audiences that there’s nothing quite as terrifying as a human being bent on fulfilling a goal no matter the cost; the moral of this story is less “man is the cruelest animal,” more “man wants what he wants, will get what he wants, and will also get what he deserves.” The silver lining in “1922” the protagonist achieves what he sets out to do in the end, but that silver lining is stained with blood and guilt.

If you’ve read the novella, you already know the premise. Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), a proud and plainspoken farmer in the American midwest, owns eighty acres of family land. His wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), similarly owns a hundred acres adjoined to Wilfred’s, a gift willed to her by her dad. Wilfred loves farm life; Arlette loathes it. She tries to persuade Wilfred to pack up, sell their land, and move to Omaha, and Wilfred naturally bristles at the thought, so much so that he decides that with the help of their son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to bump her off. They do. It isn’t pretty. Wilfred hides her corpse in a well, and everything starts to unravel for the remaining James family members from there. (It’s the rats. Leave a dead body on your property, well, that’s basically an invitation for hungry rodents to move in.)

There’s a deliciously macabre quality to “1922” that, maybe unsurprisingly, recalls the kind of “damnation via greed” trope that’s so common in “Tales From the Crypt” canon; if not for his stubborn refusal of Arlette’s needs, none of the bad things that happen in the film would actually happen. In a short-form narrative, that arc likely necessitates Wilfred being an all-around awful human being; with only twenty to thirty minutes of space to tell a story, positioning him as pure scum makes economic sense. With an hour and forty minutes of creative space, though, Hilditch has the freedom to work closely with Jane and fully realize Wilfred as a character, for better and for worse (with a greater emphasis on “worse”). Wilfred isn’t a workaday ne’er-do-well. He isn’t a dumb stereotype, either. It’s true that Jane, apparently an aural shapeshifter, takes to Wilfred’s regional drawl with such stunning ease that you won’t recognize him with your ears even as your eyes validate his identity. It’s also true that his accent is oft-associated with ingrained stupidity. But as foolish and extreme as Wilfred may be, he isn’t stupid. His speech belies the grim logic of his thought process.

“1992” is Wilfred’s story, which makes it Jane’s movie. Hilditch might be the director, but Jane is the hinge the film swivels on. He’s in nearly every single shot, and even when he isn’t, he has a presence that looms over all images tangential to him; Wilfred is a simple man, but authoritative in his own down-home way. His farm is his kingdom. He’ll hold onto his kingdom as long as he’s able, and by whatever means he must. Maybe his long-term planning sucks (okay, definitely his long-term planning sucks), but Jane’s magnetism marries with a self-awareness that’s visible in every action Wilfred takes. This union between charisma and perception lends him immediate indelibility, whether couched in Jane’s filmography or King’s long assembly of doomed heroes. Bill Skarsgårdmade himself memorable just by equaling Tim Curry’s work as Pennywise in the 1990 miniseries adaptation of “It.” Jane makes himself memorable in “1922” by making himself indispensable. Without him, this is a very different, less urgent movie.

With him, it’s a must-watch, both on its own merits and as the umpteenth King film released this year. “1922” is a ghastly slow burner, not the kind where nothing happens until the last ten minutes, but rather the kind that layers minor incident upon minor incident until they tally up to something major. Is Wilfred’s misfortune the product of vengeance from beyond the grave, or is merely fate? You can mull that one over after Hilditch cuts to black from his final shot, which echoes “Trick ‘r Treat” as much as the rest of the movie echoes the style of EC Comics. But the pulp references only round out “1922” as a nastily grounded piece of work. This is serious horror worth savoring. [B+]

  • timmy t

    What, no mention of Mr. Mercedes that just wrapped up their first season last week? Come on!

  • Devin McMusters

    King be banking this year. I’d love to see the Mr Mercedes series but it’s buried on some obscure satellite TV station.

Funny, Tender, Delightful Debut ‘Before Summer Ends’ [Zurich Review]

On the festival circuit, where Maryam Goormaghtigh‘s modest but deeply charming and affecting solo directorial debut “Before Summer Ends” will inevitably find its natural home, there’s been a little hesitation about whether to classify it as a documentary or a fiction feature. The actors play loose versions of themselves — sharing first names with their characters — and the admittedly inconclusive scenario, about three Iranian ex-pat friends taking a trip to the South of France before one of them returns to Tehran, is an easy amalgam of situations familiar to both the newcomer stars and the neophyte filmmaker.

But don’t let the loose, improvisatory style and supremely naturalistic performances fool you: even aside from the delightful, colorful and carefully composed cinematography (also courtesy of Goormaghtigh) there is a gentle, premeditated point to be found in almost every scene here. The road-trip narrative, rambling and episodic though it is, drifts unerringly toward bittersweet, serio-comic truths about dislocation, homesickness and camaraderie, that feel like the result of an amused, affectionate, but very sure hand honing whimsy into wisdom and documentary into drama. In fact, if it’s classified as documentary at all, it may be because the undemonstrative but preternaturally endearing three-way relationship at its center is so spontaneous and true it simply feels like it cannot possibly have been fabricated from anything other than whole-cloth reality.

Our offbeat triumvirate comprise girl-crazy aspiring photographer Ashkan, married dreamer and dreamboat Hossein and the film’s physically and metaphorically biggest presence, Arash, a shy, overweight, mustachioed guy approaching the end of his studies, who tends to clam up, and hide the sweetness his friends cherish in him behind his bulk, whenever other people are around. At the outset of the film, the three of them are lolling around Arash’s poky, untidy bedroom before Ashkan and Hossein talk him into one last hurrah before he leaves Paris: a trip to the beach in the South of France.

The friends talk about life, the universe and everything while encountering small-town parades, going for impromptu lake swims and bickering over food in verdant campgrounds en route. They knock back beers, eye up girls and doze in the sun. And their radio-accompanied, car-bound heart-to-hearts are mostly chit-chat and friendly trash-talking , but every now and then, out tumbles one of those confessions that long car journeys often prompt. They all have their reasons for living abroad — whether it’s the greater freedom (and beloved beer-drinking) that their more secular life here affords them, or the fact that going home will see them drafted into military service and/or marriage. One slightly heartbreaking detail is in the casual aside that Arash gained all his weight deliberately so that he would be ruled ineligible for the army. Still, he breaks into his big smile, what a time he had doing it!

Such scattered little moments of insight abound. After trying subtly to talk Arash out of returning home to an overbearing father and a proscribed life back in Tehran, Hossein admits to a very specific ambivalence, recognisable to ex-pats and migrants the world over: that he feels happier back in Iran, but in France he is more like the person he wants to be. They speak irreverently, though never disrespectfully, of the religion they have little time for here, playfully teaching the two French girls they meet, Charlotte and Michèle, how to tie a veil in the various fashions they recall. And throughout, the most surprising, refreshing quality of the film is that its perspective remains absolutely with them, even though they are the “outsiders” — we are with them inside their car, inside their private universe of in-jokes and shared frustrations, inside that particular cone of joy and misery that is being a stranger in the strange land you’ve decided to call home.

Goormaghtigh is of Iranian extraction but was born in Geneva, and her film won her the Emerging Swiss Talent prize at the recent Zurich Film Festival (which I know because, full disclosure, I was on the jury that awarded it). And it really is a remarkable feat of heartfelt, headstrong independent filmmaking: she shot the film on her own camera, to an outline she improvised with her actors, before she had any funding or production budget in place. And so although she concertinas about a week’s vacation into an efficient 80 minutes that manages to feel as fluid, langorous and warmly nostalgic as a lazy summer day (set to an equally charming score by Marc Siffert), this off-the-cuff approach also gives the film an exuberance and a sense of freedom as evocative as that first sniff of salty sea air.

Perhaps it’s that we’re not used to seeing men of this ethnicity depicted with such a light, good-humored touch, especially in these times of immigrant crisis and mounting xenophobia. Perhaps it’s also that we’re not used to seeing men of any ethnicity interact with such tender, unembarrassed affection toward each other, for all the beer-swilling hi-jinks and light ribbing. But “Before Summer Ends,” with its trio of good-natured friends helping each other navigate homesickness and hopefulness and presumably the odd hangover in their quest to find their place in the world, is a rare thing: one of the smallest, humblest films of the year, it’s encased in an enveloping, enormous compassion that also makes it one of the kindest. [B+]

‘The Snowman’ Is So Bad It’s Depressing [Review]

As long as there have been procedurals, there have been burnt out, down on their luck cops, but Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) seems to have hit every branch on the cliché tree. An alcoholic prone to long leaves of absence when he’s boozing, Harry also claims that he can’t sleep, except when he drinks enough to pass out, which more often than not, will be a street curb or park bench, rather than his own bed. (Side note: the drinking has done nothing to soften the detective’s ripped physique). Harry’s an absentee father figure to Oleg (Michael Yates), who isn’t really his kid, but is the offspring of his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to whom he’s also a disappointment. Harry doesn’t know a rule he won’t break, except when it comes to driving without a license. Everyone has their limits, I suppose. As for the audience, their patience will quickly wear thin having to endure the rumpled, mostly ineffective investigating Harry gets around to doing in the ludicrous “The Snowman.”

Whatever made Jo Nesbo’s novel an international best-seller seems to have been tossed out or completely muddled in this big screen adaptation. The story finds Harry paired up with rookie cop Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) to solve the disappearance, and subsequent gruesome murders, of several young women. Beyond the fact that the victims are all mothers and the crimes occurred during snowfall, the pair don’t have much to go on. Meanwhile, another story unfolds involving Oslo’s bid to host to the Winter Sports World Cup (the Hydrox version of the Olympics, presumably because the production couldn’t get clearance to use that word) which may have sinister undertones.

Right from the start, however, Harry and Katrine work at cross purposes. The newcomer officer is quietly studying a cold case, one which carries a deep personal agenda for the cop. Sensing that his supposed partner is holding out, Harry starts looking into Katrine’s work, which may or may not have some bearing on the murders they’re supposed to be trying to sort out. It becomes quite clear that if Harry and Katrine were just straight with each other, they’d probably crack their case in half the time it actually takes them. As for the Winter Sports World Cup, it continues to linger in the background, its relationship to main narrative continually elusive, but it’s not worth thinking about too hard. At a certain point, the actual identity of the killer becomes obvious to anyone halfway paying attention, so you can sit back and savor the silliness, because there’s plenty to behold.

Right at the top of the pile is Val Kilmer, who appears in a handful of flashback scenes as former cop Gert Rafto. He possibly drinks even more Harry (“The Snowman” seems to posit that the best cops in Norway are also the most unstable), and Kilmer’s gargle voiced delivery might have the most and the most awful ADR of any performance this year. Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons employs a broad, “European” accent in his turn as smarmy businessman Arve Støp. David Dencik has a lot of fun playing an oddball “pregnancy doctor” (an actual quote from the movie) who wears red nail polish so as to firmly indicate he’s a red herring. As for Chloe Sevigny, her brief turn involves one of the most ridiculous reveals in the film that’s too good to spoil here. Meanwhile, a lot of time is spent explaining how Harry and Katrine’s extraordinarily bulky (and glaringly uncinematic) EviSync (evidence sync) tablet device works, for no discernible reason, except to setup a plot point which ultimately serves little purpose.

With each passing minute, it’s increasingly astonishing that Tomas Alfredson directed this. The filmmaker, who showed such care, craft, and style with “Let The Right One In” and “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” is woefully uninspired here. There’s an inattention to detail on every level that’s disheartening; there’s the sense that Alfredson might’ve given up on the movie before it even started. The two credited editors, the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker (likely brought in at the behest of longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese, who mercifully adds his name as an executive producer) and Claire Simpson do what they can to patch things together, but “The Snowman” leaves motivations and plot threads puzzlingly started and unresolved. The lead performances are not much help either, with Fassbender’s weariness landing on the same single note, while Ferguson never quite sorts out her underwritten yet twisty role. Even Marco Beltrami’s score appears dashed out, all stabbing strings, used to overemphasize the most obvious moments of completely ineffective suspense.

With some films, you can tell where one or two things went wrong — perhaps a decision in script, or a performance that’s off base — but “The Snowman” is the rare movie where for every choice, there was a better way to go. There might be some grim pleasure in watching the film as an unintentional comedy, but it won’t take away the depression of seeing so much good talent and potential go completely to waste. [F]

  • MAYORDADA

    Yo Kevin, PLEASE copyedit your posts! You’re a fine writer, but every single one of your articles is RIDDLED with typos, missing words, and serious grammatical errors. I’m not at all hating, I read this site daily, but I really wish somebody would copyedit these posts. I have no clue if this is even your responsibility (something tells me there’s no copyeditor on the staff), but it’s a real bummer.

Will Ashton