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I watched this documentary on Monday night, after Anthony Weiner’s final on-line transgression resulted in the announcement of his separation from his wife, Hillary Clinton handler and confidante Huma Abedin.  The documentary shadows Weiner during his run for the New York City mayoralty, a run he made after resigning from Congress when he was busted for sending a dick pick to a young girl.  The ignominy of that act was exacerbated by the facts of Weiner’s lying about the incident (he was hacked, it might not be his junk, forces opposed to him were at play, “”Maybe it did start being a photo of mine and now looks something different or maybe it is from another account”) and his unfortunate name.

But come back he did, and as relayed by the documentarians, he returned with verve and passion.  Until he got busted again, this time sexting under the nom de plume “Carlos Danger” with a sad, grasping, soon-to-be porn star named Sydney Leathers (the scandal is notable as much for its bizarre nature as the silly names of its participants).  This unfolds before our very eyes, and it is often difficult to watch.  After this second humiliating revelation, Weiner opts for an aggressive, charge forward “this is what we do“ approach, as if to keep moving is to delay facing up to the consequences of his actions.   But you can see him harden and crack, in contentious interviews and encounters with voters.  Abedin, a beautiful, stoic woman, also becomes more brittle, but she retreats inward.  When the camera catches her watching Weiner desperately prattle on, a look not so much of disgust as disbelief is on her face.  The campaign staff, all young and committed to Weiner, are rattled, and you feel for their predicament.

The documentary also illuminates a few other aspects of this entire farce that merit comment.  First, even with all the drama and pain of Weiner’s relationship with Abedin, there is an intimacy between the two that is undeniable, making this national joke a bit harder to laugh at.  The revelation of real love in what you cynically presume is a marriage of convenience is quite unexpected.  Additionally, Weiner and Abedin evince a certain cynicism of their own in the way they operate politically.  It seems perfectly natural to them when Weiner monitors her fundraising calls to friends or uses their child as a shield-in-a-stroller, or she engages in strategic musings to keep his campaign afloat.  But it feels grubby and sad.   Also, the media comes off as nothing short of vile.  Their glee and faux moralizing actually engenders sympathy for Weiner, which, given his hubris and recklessness, would seem impossible.   When Weiner becomes unspooled after being baited by the likes of MSNBC dimwit Lawrence O’Donnell, it’s hard to determine who comes off worse.  At least, for me and Weiner.  There is a  charming moment when Weiner looks back at Abedin after re-watching his interview with O’Donnell and imploringly asks who got the worst of it.  She replies unequivocally that Weiner was loser of the exchange, a fact he can’t quite grasp.   Frankly, to me, it was a close call, but the unctuous O’Donnell was not running for office.   The crazed Weiner was.

Ultimately, what I liked most about the documentary is it didn’t portray Weiner as tragedy.  He is not presented as some promising wunderkind undone by his excesses and a vicious press corps.  While in post-campaign crater sit-down interviews with the filmmakers, Weiner looks beaten, emaciated, like a recently released hostage . . .

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. . . sad as he looks, you don’t feel that something grand has been lost.  He’s just a guy with a persistent fetish in the wrong business.

 

 

One of my favorite films from a few years back was Blue Ruin, writer director Jeremy Saulnier’s moody, crisp, and realistic revenge-gone-wrong drama. That film was completed with a budget of $500,000. I was happy to see Saulnier get a bigger budget follow-up film, Green Room, which was produced for $5 million. Unfortunately, it has only made half of its budget back, a shame, because the picture further demonstrates Saulnier’s obvious talent and ingenuity (don’t just take it from me – it rates at 91% on rottentomatoes.com).

The story is simple: we meet an East coast punk band in the Northwest “on tour”, having just played a Portland gig where they made a whopping $6. To make up for the paltry cut, the quartet is recommended to a club located out in the woods. The pal putting them on to the gig is quick to note that while they may not like the politics of the place, the money is good and assured – $350.   Mind you, the band has been subsisting on junk food and making its way across the country by siphoning gas from other vehicles. They take the gig..

When they arrive, they immediately get a good sense of the politics of the place, what with the odd Confederate flag and Nazi graffiti about in an otherwise survivalist-meets-skinhead environment. It is, however, a pretty professional survivalist/skinhead environment. The club acts like any other club. The band is admonished not to clutter the hallway and to keep their set to time. They do, and all is well.  Until other things go wrong. Terribly wrong.

What ensues is a gripping, occasionally funny, but mainly cold-sweat inducing fight for survival. Saulnier continues to impress with his ability to convey the gritty realities of every day violence.  It almost always goes wrong, it is messy and it is rarely cinematic. He also does a few other things very well. First, his dialogue is grounded and mature. The characters say things to one another you would expect people to say in such a fucked up, dangerous and confusing situation. There are no schmaltzy foxhole confessions or dramatic readings of the riot act. These people are regular folk and they are at the point of a knife. There is no time to whinge on about extraneous bullshit.

Second, Saulnier avoids stereotype without being showy. The band members are as civilian as you can get, but they are not ineffectual. And while the skinheads are terrifying, they are not caricatures nor are they of one stripe.  I was happy to see Saulnier’s lead in Blue Ruin, Macon Blair, cast as a bad guy.  Saulnier manages to subtly convey equivocacy within the ranks of the villains like Blair, which has greater implications as the plot develops.

Look, this is a genre film along the lines of The Purge or the flicks where white kids (and Cuba Gooding) take the wrong turn in LA after a Lakers game and become prey to rappers and cholos, but as it goes, it is at the top of that heap.

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Paul Rudd lost his young son in an accident and compensates by taking a 6 week course on caregiving for the disabled. His first client is a plucky, wheelchair bound Brit named Trevor, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and an overinflated sense of his own cleverness. For example, to shock Rudd, he pretends he’s choking or having a seizure, a real gutbuster. Rudd later pretends he’s lost his lifesaving medicines, so, relationship established.

Both parties learn life lessons, but to better cement them, they

A). Make love
B). Take a road trip
C). Join a white supremacist sect
D). Enter into a suicide pact

Of course the answer is B), but the other answers would have made for a better film, for those options would not have resulted in their meeting bad girl hitchhiker Selena Gomez. How do we know she is bad? She

A). Smokes
B). Curses
C). Is a white supremacist
D). Smokes while cursing

Oh, if it had only been C).

So, Gomez is indeed the toughest girl at the mall, but she also suffers her own disability — inflatable faceitis.

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That’s the curveball.

Gloppy, lazy, hackneyed gruel.

Nick Kroll is a pretty big deal in New York City until his Google-glassish innovation goes busto and he loses all his money and all the money of his so-called friends, so he seeks solace by retreating to the icky suburbs and his childhood home in New Rochelle, NY, currently inhabited by his harried sister (Rose Byrne), her swarthy, down-to-earth home builder husband (Bobby Cannavale) and their charmless 3 year old boy.  There, Nick becomes intertwined in their lives, much like Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins, who went home to Nyack, NY after a trauma.  Kroll discovers Cannavale is having an affair, much like Hader’s sister Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins.  Coincidentally, in The Skeleton Twins, Wiig was cheating on her husband Luke Wilson, who was also a blue collar guy, just like Cannavale.

Crazily, Kroll reveals the fact of the affair to Byrne, again, like Hader to Wilson in The Skeleton Twins.  And that results in a heartfelt discussion about how Kroll ran out when their mother was dying of cancer, and the discussion is reminiscent of the recriminations and regrets of Hader and Wiig about their father, also dead by suicide.   In The Skeleton Twins.

For a few easy laughs, the town is populated by faintly ridiculous folk from high school who Kroll can look down upon.  Much like Hader in The Skeleton Twins.  And there are places that inexplicably have Christmas lights up even though it is not Christmas.  Just like the town in The Skeleton Twins.

And Kroll grows, growth which is signaled by the fact he chooses the welfare of his sister’s son over his new job.

Just like James Caan in Elf.

Torture that at its best is mildly diverting.

No one does Americana better than Arkansan writer-director Jeff Nichols. Shotgun Stories and Mud are monuments to understatement and authenticity. He has a unique ability to convey the lazy currents rural life as well as its plain-spoken and direct dialogue. None of it comes off as a posture or a condescension.

These qualities are found in Midnight Special, a story of a boy kidnapped by his father (Michael Shannon) away from the clutches of a religious compound in Texas. Soon, however, the federal government gets involved, and that’s where Nichols loses his way. The story morphs into the supernatural, the genesis of which is never fully explained, and the visual payoff – a world within our own that arises in Louisiana – is jarringly cheesy (I was reminded a little of The Abyss, James Cameron’s gripping underwater yarn, which was undone by the silliest representation of aliens you ever saw).

Still, I recommend the picture for the quiet moments and the care Nichols takes with both characters and milieu.