Rightwing Film Geek

I’m Your Man

I’M YOUR MAN (Maria Schrader, Germany, 2021) 6

The last couple of scenes are so brilliantly done, so wise (this is not HER) and so understated, and the first scene so slyly suggestive as the date goes off the rails that I really don’t trust my “meh” reaction to the intervening 95 minutes.

Had the film ended with Dan Stevens’ departure, I’d’ve been debating between 4 and 5, partially because so much of I’M YOUR MAN wasn’t terribly funny to me. It was fitfully amusing, always genial, and had nothing cringeworthy, sure. I probably went in with the wrong expectations, expecting the film to be more of a farce than it is because the premise — human-like robots tailored to be the perfect mate — is so absurd. I kept thinking of MORK AND MINDY but with Dan Stevens rather than Robin Williams. That’s not a good thing.

How much is a specific byproduct of his speaking German (I admit I did love the excuse for a British accent so pronounced even I could hear it) is something I can’t say, but Stevens’ performance is definitely somewhat awkward and that’s exactly right for a robot (hard not to think of STARMAN also). Sandra Huller is equally awkward, albeit in that chipper human-resources manager way, and that becomes brilliant. Maren Eggert has the hardest role, playing a skeptic of the whole premise of the product and a normal effed-up person with contradictory desires in a post-modern hall of mirrors. She even pulls off a speech about being in a play in which she’s both performer and audience.

I know it’s unfair to compare a “German comedy” to a “German comedy” from five years ago (they all look alike) even if they both feature Sandra Huller. But there was just nothing here as uproariously memorable as “The Greatest Love of All” or petit-fours. “I’m Your Man” plays more in the dramedy vein, with much of the humor wry (first line I wrote down was “I detect a reaction to my correct use of the subjunctive”) and minor-key, like the unexpected reunion with the chubby old man from the first scene. And those last two scenes, one a lengthy narrated monolog, the other a trip to Denmark, work so well because … talking vaguely … they’re really about how the film’s absurd premise relates to something not-absurd romantic longing and the existence of the custom-designed perfect mate.

September 27, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Small Engine Repair

SMALL ENGINE REPAIR (John Pollono, USA, 2021) 7

Well that took a turn to the fuckin dark…

It’d be cruel and unfair to compare SMALL ENGINE REPAIR to Takashi Miike’s AUDITION, which is just one of this century’s best movies and has the greatest tone shift in movie history. But Pollono is definitely trying to pull off something similar, gliding from amiable-ish genre piece (here, a bro-hangout film) into the outer realms of ultra-violence. However while Miike also shifted character, POV and possible reality as well as tone, Pollono doesn’t. As a result the Japanese film glides past and makes us swallow the absurdities and contrivances of torture porn while the American one doesn’t.

Still until those narrative contrivances kick in, REPAIR is a very enjoyable bro-hangout film, New England working-class division. It precisely nails the dynamic of three best drinking buddies — Frankie the recovering alcoholic, Packy the dim bulb, and Swaino the instigator. “Fuck you” is a term of endearment among them but the circle is starting to age past the sell-by date and it now looks kinda pathetic or more. REPAIR has some of the underlying mix of danger and fascination thereof as Joe Pesci’s scenes in GOODFELLAS, since it opens with Frankie being released from jail and the first act ends with a near-fatal fight. Cut to Recovery Frankie drinking and smoking.

The second act is a reunion night at Frankie’s garage, which is capped off with a visit from a drug dealer, which kicks in the third act and the excrement making contact with the rotating blades. The long flashback in which the older men tell the college-student dealer about watching the 1986 World Series with their fathers would make a great short-subject and it encapsulates the film in miniature — “toxic masculinity” consumed and narrativized as nostalgia.

I lol’d at lines like “that’s homophobic” and “my people have been marginalized and oppressed by white people” being used in these contexts — it’s 2021 nominally but the year’s High Wokeness has trickled down imperfectly. Even in 2021, I can believe that some folks still are ignorant of Dis Instagram Shit (“like a fucking Asian teenager”) and this tech disconnect also sets up one of the film’s best lines, “I have 2,854 followers” as a plea for one’s life.

But while I appreciated the head fake of the perfect murder, which had my eyes rolling as it happening since these three are varying types of fuck-up, I cannot believe that a major law firm would drop a partner over Instagram posts of the type described here. Nor do I believe the parallel threat that wraps up the plot would be as effective as it is. Nor do I believe the line “whore daughter” in that situation. Nor can I discern why on earth Frankie turns himself in to the cops, and that this would have no effect on the other conspirators. Too bad really.

September 24, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cry Macho

CRY MACHO (Clint Eastwood, USA, 2021, 2)

Risible from beginning to end unfortunately. Watching a 90-year-old man play a rodeo-star turned cowboy bounty-hunter is as painful an experience as watching a 55-year-old man fight mixed martial arts.

The script is one tortured contrivance after another — the very fact that Dwight Yoakam hires a 90-year-old man to go into Mexico and kidnap his estranged son; how quickly Eastwood finds both a family home and a 13-year-old boy based on only a 6-year-old’s picture; his finding which particular cockfight in Mexico City, a city of 20 million people, the boy is at; that a Texas rodeo star would speak sign language but not Spanish; the equally script-convenient variable competences of the Mexican police and Clint’s Spanish. And let’s just say CRY MACHO has the most ridiculous film climax involving a chicken since KILLER JOE.

The two lead performances are both very bad. Eduardo Minett plays the tween quarry and he can barely exist on camera but he does carefully recite every line correctly. As for Eastwood, I get that he’s deliberately playing a shadow of his formal self. But he’s just too physically limited even to do that, at least in the manner he does here. Howard Hawks gradually debilitated Robert Mitchum and John Wayne during the course of EL DORADO. Instead, Eastwood directs himself taming a wild horse. Only, in the film’s low point, most of the scene is in long shot, intercut with close-in shots of Eastwood moving up and down without a horse in the frame. That’s the stuff of Ed Wood.

September 24, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (Michael Showalter, USA, 2021, 8)

What if conmen believe their con? It’s not exactly that we come to sympathize with them, but they definitely become harder to hate and the other things about them come to the forefront, including “how did they come to believe their con?”

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE manages the remarkable feat of portraying someone known as a caricature without engaging in it itself. Partially it is physical — the makeup changes over time and Jessica Chastain isn’t that great a resemblance (especially facially) so you see a performance not an imitation. But mostly it’s because Tammy Faye was many things, but not a phony like many of us assumed at the time when we heard about (first detail to immediately come to mind) the air-conditioned doghouses. She and husband Jim were pentecostalists filled with enthousiasmos, not fundamentalists filled with the scriptures. “All is grace” ends Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” and this film (accurately from all accounts) portrays one way to take that — the prosperity gospel (heresy).

From the very beginning of their courtship and ministry, the Bakkers saw God’s giving hand in everything with a naive good-heartedness, and an effervescence. The film portrays a famous interview with Ted Koppel on “Nightline” in which they frankly admit they had no idea how much money they made and never really thought to ask. It sounded ridiculous (and the film leaves out Koppel’s sick rebuttal), but … this film makes it believable.

Tammy Faye in particular didn’t have the cynicism, guile or calculation that conmen need. She was so trusting and so gifting a person that it never occurred to her to ask whether it was a good use of money to give her mother a fur; it kept the woman warm. This naivete in Tammy Faye, whose POV the film takes, also means that some of the biopic shapelessness and the murkiness of the fraud charges / court procedurals in the story — criticisms one could justifiably make — actually play exactly right. There is only the “and then” experience.

The ending clinched it for me on these grounds. The film opens with Tammy Faye she needed to wear her makeup because that’s her role — seemingly the opposite of what I just said about not being a phony. But the last scene is her singing on a concert stage, starting her comeback (“I hate that word, it’s ‘return’!”) to being the celebrity she has made herself into. Or at least thinks she has. As an icon of a most American of religions, singing the most of American of songs, as the flag unfurls. Life, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Tammy Faye Bakker. The dream she had clung to so desperately had enfolded her.

This secular film is also enjoyable, for some of us anyway, in its portrayal of how she and Jim were so different from the fundamentalist Jerry Falwell (a pet hobby-horse of mine is how ignorant much press coverage is of the subtleties and details of what I might as well call “conservative” religion). And, helped by history here, the fact that Falwell is both unsympathetic and the one who punishes the Bakkers’ fraud.

However, I have to say that a great film would have has a less-caricatured Falwell (I flat out didn’t buy the late line from the mother) and maybe more about how Tammy Faye became a gay icon post-fall (it’s a bit of a cheat to put topic-H into two scenes pre-fall, even if those conversations actually took place as portrayed). And does it need to be said that a great biopic film would have no IRL footage of its subject(s) over the credits.

September 24, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment