Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, an aspiring stand-up well into his 40s who has yet to find his big break. Inspired by local folk tales, usually dealing with fights or sexual prowess, Rudy creates the character of Dolemite. His irreverent humour, love of rhyming and eccentric fashion sense soon make the self- professed ‘bad motherfucker’ a cult sensation; as the obligatory onscreen text before the end credits tells us, Dolemite was even a key influence in the development of rap music. Despite the success of his albums and tours, Rudy continues to push his comedy to its limits, with much of DOLEMITE IS MY NAME’s second half chronicling the production of his first feature film, 1975’s Dolemite.
The real-life Moore was idolised by Murphy, having begun his rise to fame as the latter entered adolescence. Indeed, it’s easy to see parallels between the two as unlikely success stories for their ages (Murphy was only 18 when he auditioned for Saturday Night Live). This familiarity and reverence fuel an utterly captivating performance, as Murphy immerses himself in the role far more than you’d expect for such a recognisable figure. Sure, he was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting turn in Dreamgirls, but this is simply the best he’s ever been as an actor.
When Murphy as Moore admits his struggle to see himself as a leading man, there’s palpable anxiety in his voice. Likewise, the countless scenes revealing just how unfamiliar he is with the technical processes of filmmaking never feel naïve, instead conveying his earnest enthusiasm. For instance, an exchange with screenwriter Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) where Rudy explains he doesn’t know kung fu but could learn it for the film is played for laughs, yet subtly works to reaffirm his commitment to his work. Rudy even gives up his apartment and sleeps on set to save money. Most importantly though, Murphy evidently lost none of his comedic timing during his hiatus. The Dolemite character amplifies Rudy’s innate swagger and boisterous delivery, often commanding the audience’s attention as soon as he steps on stage. While most of the jokes are crude or braggadocious, I was caught off guard multiple times by just how effortlessly Murphy elevated them.
Yet DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is more than a one-man show. The supporting players aren’t given as much development as Rudy but provide plenty of laughs nonetheless. Wesley Snipes is particularly impressive as D’Urville Martin, a bit player in films such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Rosemary’s Baby who is enticed by the promise of directing Dolemite. Snipes is an inspired choice for such a snarky role and consistently nails Martin’s incredulous one-liners at his crew and Rudy’s expense. Meanwhile, Da’Vine Joy Randolph provides the film with crucial depth as Rudy’s protégé Lady Reed. Their friendship is often the springboard for more grounded and serious conversations, a refreshing change of pace which prevents an overly farcical tone.
Finally, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is an unabashed love letter to the blaxploitation era of the 1970s. Director Craig Brewer and his crew capture the era perfectly, especially through the colourful costumes, production design and music. Seriously, the Dolemite theme song is almost guaranteed to get stuck in your head. These elements complement the actors perfectly and make the film look and feel fun to watch. Murphy’s performance alone makes this film worth adding to your Netflix list, but it’s a remarkable achievement overall.
2019 | DIR: STEVEN SODERBERGH | STARRING: MERYL STREEP, GARY OLDMAN, ANTONIO BANDERAS | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
As I mentioned above, most of the film’s events are fictional, essentially becoming parables which demonstrate the lessons imparted by our narrators Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas). In reality, Mossack and Fonseca were the founders of an eponymous law firm that created thousands of shell corporations to protect wealthy clients from taxes and other sanctions, as documented in the Panama Papers. The result is a Wolf of Wall Street-esque ‘winking devil’ approach, wherein the audience is frequently addressed by a character who freely admits their crimes but tries to sway us with their charm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it largely works just as well here. Oldman and Banderas play off each other perfectly, with the latter twisting his natural suaveness into a delightful smarminess. Meanwhile, Oldman gives exactly the kind of bombastic performance I love him for, right down to Mossack’s thick German accent.
Mossack and Fonseca also deliver THE LAUNDROMAT’s version of the explanatory cutaways made famous by The Big Short. While I’ll do my best not to spend this entire review comparing the two films, I could honestly go on for hours about just how brilliantly the latter addresses complex financial ideas. From Selena Gomez at a blackjack table to Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, McKay and Charles Randolph’s Oscar-winning script ensured that what might’ve been alienating concepts became the most memorable scenes. By contrast, the settings chosen by Burns and Soderbergh are often bland and forgettable, for instance, during one scene a bank is represented by a plain white set. Once the credits rolled, I couldn’t remember which topic was being discussed there. The exception to this is the wonderfully bizarre opening sequence of set in prehistoric times, chronicling humanity’s progression from barter trade to credit. In hindsight, it evidently inspired false hope from me.
Simply put, this film is dull outside of scenes involving its narrators or Meryl Streep. Streep plays Ellen, a new widow who becomes obsessed with exposing the shady insurance company protecting the cruise line responsible for her husband’s death on. This insurer is managed by Mossack Fonseca, teasing a showdown between our leads that we never get. Instead, Ellen’s arc consists of her amateur investigation interspersed with subtle mourning before abruptly ending without a resolution. Of course, Streep is great, but I was actually more impressed to see her commit to Burns’ strangest ideas. Firstly, a dream sequence which sees her open fire in the insurance company’s lobby. Secondly, THE LAUNDROMAT’s final monologue taken verbatim from the Panama Papers whistleblower, culminating in a batshit insane twist. Although these unequivocally pushed the film past a point of no return for me, they’re the only parts I’d watch again.
Unfortunately, THE LAUNDROMAT wastes too much of its runtime following minor characters and their respective subplots. Most egregiously, the story of a wealthy man who has an affair with one of his daughter’s classmates lasts for nearly twenty uninterrupted minutes. While I don’t understand the reasoning behind its inclusion in the first place, the fact that it barely overlaps with the lead characters makes it downright frustrating. Likewise, Burns and Soderbergh actually dedicate less time to showing the Panama Papers leak and its fallout. In a film full of baffling choices, this misguided focus somehow sticks out, causing the final product to feel limited in its scope. Despite THE LAUNDROMAT offering broadly useful lessons about its subject matter, it could’ve been done better.
Since making the first Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer has made the disappointing Gangster Squad (2013) and then last year’s Venom (much maligned by the critics but popular at the box office) and the original screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have given us the two hilarious Deadpool movies. On this one they’re also joined by Sly Stallone’s Expendables co-writer, Dave Callaham and the result is pretty entertaining even if it doesn’t manage to kick the franchise up a notch. Part of the problem for a movie like this is that the first time around, most of the fun was in the chase as our four characters buddied up and betrayed each other with relentless monotony. To get us back to that, they need to ‘break up the band’ in order to create the circumstances where we want them to get back together again. It mostly works, although the Wichita storyline is much more compelling and engaging than what happens with Little Rock.
There’re also the inevitable new characters to liven things up. Zoey Deutch’s Madison is a cliched daffy blonde who (for me at least) grates in her early scenes but manages to grow on you (a bit) as the story develops while Avan Jogia’s Berkley is a mostly bland and functional character that really only exists to enable the Little Rock storyline to play out. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch pop up about halfway through as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, doppelgangers to Tallahassee and Columbus. They’re essentially a sight gag (and a pretty funny one at that) and Fleischer keeps them around just long enough to maximise the laughs before they overstay their welcome. But it feels like there was the potential to get more than just laughs from these two mirror images in the way their reflections might open up a bit of self-examination from the two main male characters. In the end, only Wichita comes close to this, but its potential is let go before it really gets anywhere.
The real winner in the new batch of characters, though, is Nevada (Rosario Dawson) who more than earns her place in the story as an equal to our quartet of heroes. She’s tough and funny and no-nonsense and sexy enough to pull the rug out from underneath Tallahassee’s masculine bravado. Her arrival in the story saves Harrelson’s character from just spinning his wheels in the rut of who he was in the first movie and she’d be a welcome addition to the little band if they were ever to reunite again.
And it’s not only new humans that we get in this sequel, there are also new zombies. The zombie hoard has evolved into three distinct groups – ‘Homers’ (the dumb ones that act like Homer Simpson), ‘Hawkings’ (the smart ones that can work things out like Stephen Hawking) and the ‘Bolts’ (a new breed of fast and powerful zombies named after Usain Bolt). It’s a good idea that is funny when its used to good effect but isn’t used nearly enough to make the most of what could have been a fresh narrative direction.
In the end, it’s business as usual in this second outing but, as was the case in 2009, business is good. There’s a lot of really funny gags to keep us laughing (the leaning tower of Pisa gag is hilarious), the clever intrusions of the graphics spelling out Columbus’ rules as they becomes relevant to the story are back, there’s even a very clever Bill Murray reference or two that echo one of the funniest moments in the first movie (keep your eyes peeled for the Garfield 3 rubbish bin in the mall scene).
And, of course, there’s plenty of gory zombie deaths to satisfy our bloodlust as Tallahassee endeavours to achieve his goal of ‘zombie death of the year’ (complete with cutaways to his main competitors as the writers come up with inventive and gruesome ways to dispose of the undead). In some ways, the zombies are sort of the McGuffin of these films in that they’re not really the main game; they’re the backdrop to the perils and interactions of our heroes and the development of their relationships. And speaking of our heroes, all four actors slip back into these roles with an ease the belies the years that have passed. Only Breslin is noticeably older and that becomes of feature of her character (“I’d really like for you to stop calling me little girl!”). But it’s this comfort and familiarity that prevents the film from really offering us anything new. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but once we’ve laughed at all the gags and enjoyed revisiting the four main characters and even gotten to know and like the new ones, there not really much new under the sun. It all feels a little bit safe and samey and the third act feels like it’s been forced into the narrative rather than being allowed to evolve as a natural consequence of the story. Still, I had a good time and I wasn’t sorry I saw it and I’ll certainly go and see a third movie if they make one. I just hope it happens before 2029. The way things are going in the world, we could be in the real zombie apocalypse by then.
Ives set about finding four more artists to join his singer-songwriter friend on screen. Those other artists are Jasika Nicole, a stage and screen actor who has a recurring role in the TV series The Good Doctor – painter, Dan McCaw – Jeff Nishinaka, a remarkable paper sculptor – and Aaron Tap, musician, record producer and guitarist for Matt Nathanson. All five artists are ‘somewhere in the middle’ both in terms of where they are in their careers and the level of success they’ve reached thus far.
As a concept, this is a great area for exploration and calls into question how we think about art and artists and, more importantly, how we measure success. It’s especially relevant in a world where the quantity of our ‘likes’ and ‘friends’ and ‘shares’ is often more important to us than their quality. Bringing together these five artists whose work we’re more likely NOT to be familiar with than if they were what we might think of as a bunch of celebrities, opens up the possibility for a more direct and insightful examination of a fascinating subject. In its execution, however, the documentary only goes part way towards any deep revelations about art and success.
In his approach to the five subjects, Ives opts for a pretty meat-and-potatoes style of interviewing – single camera, subject seated, a domestic or workplace setting and the whole interview seemingly completed in one go. It also becomes clear very quickly that each of the five artists are responding to the same set of questions in the same order. This, of course, makes for easy editing between different interviews providing different responses to the same general question, but doesn’t inspire much of the kind of spontaneity you get when subjects go ‘off script’ or interact over a series of interviews. The questions themselves are mostly predictable – how did you get started, when did you know, what was the hardest thing, what advice would you give to your younger self etc. etc. – all questions that we’ve probably heard before in extended news or current affairs interviews, but nothing that really digs deep into the heart of the matter as we might expect in a feature documentary.
The intercutting between the five artists’ responses to the set of questions is, itself, intercut with clips of them at work, but in these moments we have no interactions with them; just an ‘outsiders’ view of musicians on stage, or artists in the studio, or an actor on set. What’s missing from this documentary is context and perspective. When the ‘voice to camera’ work is all one voice, we only get that point-of view. Where are the other voices in this story who could have provided the kind of insight to these artists that they can’t provide themselves? Where are the voices (like those fans after Griffin House’s gig) who assume that success means more that what these artists have already achieved? In the end, Somewhere in the Middle offers us some interesting observations made by artists about themselves and their careers and work practices and, as such, is engaging up to a point, but doesn’t break any new ground or throw up enough challenge to the ways we think about fame and fortune. It’s not a bad documentary, but it never really achieves the kind of perception and insight that great documentaries manage to find. I guess it’s somewhere in the middle.
Fisherman’s Friends exclusively performs traditional sea shanties, which I had assumed would become tiresome, but they give the film a distinct and charming voice - much like the group. The songs are often performed a cappella or with minimal instrumentation, allowing the powerful harmonies to shine. In fact, the vocals are a blend of real-life group members and the actors portraying them. There’s some creative liberty taken regarding just how well-known these songs are, for instance, one scene depicts several dozen Londoners easily recalling every verse of ‘(What Shall We Do With The) Drunken Sailor’. Yet this occurs late in the film, after viewers have already seen that these songs are intended to unite people and be sung together. Besides, the cast have so much fun you’ll enjoy the musical moments regardless of whether you know the words.
Similarly, I found the performances and humour made it easy to look past the story’s clichés, especially the romantic subplot between Danny and Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), the woman who runs his B&B. The pair’s arc is obvious from their first encounter, in which she calls him a tosser for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Following Danny’s earnest attempts to record a demo for the group, Alwyn begins to open up and realise their similarities. It’s as simple as it sounds but works thanks to the palpable chemistry between Mays and Middleton, who trade teasing barbs which perfectly capture the feeling of talking to a crush. Yes, it’s another fish-out-of-water trope, and FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS is all the better for embracing it.
James Purefoy is another standout as Jim, the de facto group leader and Alwyn’s father (because of course). Purefoy is essentially playing the same grizzled mentor role James Coburn perfected in Snow Dogs, constantly stating his distaste for Danny’s outside influence while warming up to him. For instance, Jim invites Danny out for a nightcap only to abruptly leave once the latter tries to start a conversation. I’m a big fan of Snow Dogs, but felt FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS improved on this character archetype by making Jim’s development less subtle. He’s surprisingly quick to accept Danny’s plans for the group and is even willing to travel outside Port Isaac to impress label executives. As a result, Purefoy is utterly charming despite looking so pissed off for much of the film.
However, the writers can’t help but undo the main characters’ development in the film's final 15-minutes, which leaves FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS treading water. Without spoiling too much, a subplot that previously seemed inconsequential is awkwardly pushed into focus and sees the villagers, including Danny’s new friends and girlfriend, turn on him. It’s as if someone decided the film needed to be longer and needed to put off the inevitable happy ending for a little longer. After suspending my disbelief for most of the runtime, this was the first time the story felt contrived to me. Thankfully, it still ends exactly as you’d expect and can’t sour the film’s overall impression. Whether you’re looking for a breezy and fun comedy, a biopic, or a stunning and unique soundtrack, I thoroughly recommend FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS.
Directed by Brett Leonard (Virtuosity, Hideaway) the movie told the story of a simple lawnmower man named Jobe (Jeff Fahey), who had the IQ of a 6-year old and came to the attention of a neighbouring scientist, Dr Lawrence Angelo (a post Remington Steel and pre Goldeneye Pierce Brosnan). Using Jobe as a lab rat Angelo experimented with a combination of drugs and state-of-the-art virtual reality to alter Jobe's intelligence, and as this is not a review for that film, I will cut to the chase by saying that he was turned into an evil mastermind who roamed cyber space in search of world domination. The film performed moderately on home entertainment but was mostly known for its association with Stephen King, who successfully sued the producers to have his name removed from the poster (his story of the same name bore no similarity).
Four years later, from out of nowhere, Lawnmower Man 2 arrived in cinemas with the subtitle “Beyond Cyberspace” and tanked heavily. Its theatrical run was limited and it found its way to home video with little to no fanfare. The subtitle was changed to “Jobe's War” and the VHS art featured images from the previous film. Critical and viewer reactions were savage and the movie fell into obscurity.
What a travesty, because in retrospect Lawnmower Man 2 is superior to Lawnmower Man in almost every way, and while the significance of the first movie's depiction of virtual reality is irrefutable, the sequel's narrative is arguably better, as well as its projection of a future society being somewhat accurate.
The only return player was Austin O'Brien who made his debut in the original movie and went on to star in a string of hits including Last Action Hero, Prehysteria, My Girl 2 and Apollo 13. Veteran character actor Matt Frewer (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Stand) replaced Fahey as Jobe, while Brosnan's character was written out entirely and substituted with Dr Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin), the inventor of virtual reality himself.
When watching the movie 23-years after its release, the first peculiarity about Lawnmower Man 2 is the all-new futuristic cyber-punk setting. With a delicious production design best likened to the Mars-scape of Total Recall, we are expected to believe that the world has evolved in a very short space of time, and with O'Brien's character looking only a few years older, viewers are forced to suspend that disbelief, which is fine given that the new setting is a lot more appealing.
Following the conclusion of the first movie Jobe is now under the control of a multinational corporation and is the mastermind of a new virtual reality called Virtual Light. VL is a highly ambitious online universe, which – with the power of the Kyron Chip – will supersede the real world entirely. Jobe intends to access every cyber port in the world, triggering an armageddon and forcing mankind to retreat into his new world. The only thing in Jobe's way is one single encryption, which only Dr Trace can unlock, and with the help of Peter (O'Brien) and his computer geek friends, Trace enters Virtual Light and goes head to head with Jobe.
Lawnmower Man 2 was a simpler, more palatable story than the previous, and boasted a stronger visceral appeal with a production design that's bigger than such a sequel deserves. Director Farhad Mann (Return to Two Moon Junction) stepped in and took control with a clear mind of how to expand Leonard's universe. Despite being locked out of the editing process due to the studio's insistence on appealing to a specific teenage audience, Farhad relished the genre with a gleeful eye and a comic-book sensibility. His cyber-punk cityscape was wonderfully conceived, using the studio sound stage to his advantage, and the online components of the story were told with minimal digital animation in comparison to the first movie. The obvious budget restrains meant that the virtual world resembled the real world, which was sold to us as being a VR so real that we cannot distinguish the difference. This budgetary concession, in turn, played to the story's advantage and made the narrative palpable.
The casting of Matt Frewer was a small stroke of genius given his role as Max Headroom, the iconic digital TV host who dominated 1980s pop culture. He took over from Fahey and delivered a different performance that was tailored towards his own style and comical sensibilities. And while Fahey's original turn was more malevolent and sinister, Frewer's delivery was a lot more fun. Bergin was also good and he, seemingly, understood the nature of the material. Embracing the tropes and offering a lighter performance than Bronson's, he gave Lawnmower Man 2 a warranted, albeit notoriously direct-to-video, calibre of star power.
How the hell is a release like Lawnmower Man 2 better than its predecessor, and why the hell hasn't it garnered a cult following after all these years? With its predictions of future technology including cell-phones and face-time, as well as a device that's incredibly called an Eye-Phone, it is a movie begging for a loyal fanbase. Do yourself a favour and track this one down. Give it your reconsideration and watch it with or without the first movie. It's one hell of a good time.
The synopsis is not easy to articulate, nor is the film itself, as it revolves around Dalia (Saara Lamberg), a woman rescued from a pagan apocalyptic cult on the night of a sacrificial ritual, leaving her two sisters behind. Several years later, overwrought with guilt, she sets about finding the cult and, in turn, her sisters. Her inquisition leads her to a mysterious and infamous black metal musician, Moloch (Albert Goikhman), who lives burrowed beneath a dense forrest, hours from civilisation. His cryptic and imperious rhetoric sends Dalia on a hellish descent in to depravity and madness, as her world becomes a grotesque regression of ritual, death and depravity.
I'll be honest and state for the record that I was baffled by CULT GIRLS. I am uncertain what it was about, and I don't understand what Bakaitis is trying to say. And I'm not sure that it matters, because at the end of the day he has projected a gothic tapestry on the screen that provides ample food for thought and an all immersive atmosphere. He presents his story with layers of shade and relishes the various depths of darkness he's able to submerge the audience in. Like a bastard child of Eraserhead and Häxan, his visceral expression is more important than whatever narrative he's telling.
The content is often confronting and while not quite as explicit as Jonas Åkerlund's recent Lords of Chaos, CULT GIRLS occupies the same sphere. With a deep goth sensibility the film plays out like an extended music video, and polarises the audience with its ambiguity. Some will relish its rich textures and sense of style, while others will reject the incoherent narrative. Lamberg gives a captivating turn as Dalia, playing amongst the atmosphere with her own mysterious sense of elusiveness and mystique. Goikhman gleefully assumes his reaper-like rockstar persona with relish and delivers an uncharacteristically sombre performance. Additional players include Jane Badler as the high witch, Dean Kirkright as Dalia's companion and Whitney Duff as the Fire Pagan. It is an ensemble of familiar local faces and all are good.
Even now as I write this review and attempt to comprehend its underlying themes and messages, I struggle to arrive at a comprehensive conclusion. I hesitate to compare the film to Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy, because CULT GIRLS is nowhere near that calibre of artistry, but I think there's a reasonable semblance. Mark Bakaitis is a unique artisan with an unmistakable mind for imagery, and where his new film struggles to form a comprehensive narrative, it compensates with style and expression. It may or may not resonate with people right now, but perhaps it will – to its advantage – garner a niche and loyal following in the years to come.
What does IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS offer that hasn't already been said? Virtually nothing. It counts down the decade, year by year, looking at some of the most provocative and influential titles of the time. A bunch of talking heads discuss their involvement with specific titles, while others recollect their own experiences as young viewers. It is essentially the same old format that we've seen so many times, only this one runs at a whopping 4 HOUR running time.
Retrospective horror documentaries peaked with 2000's The American Nightmare as far as I'm concerned, and few have contributed beyond what that film had to say. Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood and Andrew Monument's Nightmares in Red, White and Blue are two examples of films that did, indeed, reach beyond the common knowledge of most fans, however most other docos have simply retraced the same steps.
Before passionate genre fans come at me, it must be said that I am not referring to film-specific documentaries, of which there are countless beauties. I am a staunch advocate of those, however when it comes to so-called “comprehensive” genre-broad entries, they have become little more than gratuitous fan-service, offering what I can best liken to as mass-audience-jerk-circles.
IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS produces a good amount of talking head subjects to help its narrative, however they've not been chosen wisely. Those who are welcome include the likes of Brian Yuzna, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Caroline Williams, and Mick Garris amongst others. Credit must also be given to director David A Weiner for bringing fresh faces to the table with the likes of Fangoria editor-in-chief Phil Nobile Jr, Ryan Turek from the Blumhouse stables, Heather Wixon of The Daily Dead and Fright Rags founder Ben Scrivens. Their participation helps to break up the monotony of the arduous running time, albeit only slightly. Others who have not been selected thoughtfully are Ken Sagoes (actor, Elm Street 3 & 4), Diana Prince (actress, Bunnyman Vengeance) and James A Jenisse (Dead Meat webseries), with the former two offering little to no insight and limited knowledge and the latter being an overly theatrical, ego-driven, try-hard flog. His voice permeates the majority of the film and is mostly in audible contrast from all other participants, and Weiner lacks the co-ordination and rhythm to edit his screen time effectively. The camera, all too often, lingers beyond the final statements of many players, leading to awkward moments before cutting to subsequent guests.
Looking beyond the negatives there are still plenty of positives to take away from IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS. For one, it was crowd funded and credit should always be given to those who workout outside of the formal funding bodies. Secondly, it is an impassioned exercise, which celebrates a mutual love for its subject. Even though it is clunky and poorly constructed, it attempts to delve as deep as possible (something that Weiner would have achieved with more success had he not focused on the multiple sequels of franchises, or referenced the same titles at multiple points throughout the film). And finally, the fact that it is destined to be a much easier watch on home-entertainment, as opposed to a marathon theatrical sitting, can only bode in its favour. With the benefit of stop and pause, this documentary would be a tolerable exercise.
Nevertheless, as mentioned, IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS is a blatant fan-service, which offers nothing that hasn't already been said. Its target audience will already know the stories being recollected and will not be taking away anything new from its narrative. In turn, with its 4-hour running time I cannot imagine new audiences taking to it in a hurry either.
Though I normally avoid in-depth spoilers in my reviews, I believe it’s important to break this rule before discussing AFTER THE WEDDING further. Simply put, the twists and turns of its story require a suspension of disbelief that I never reached. In fact, they’d feel more at home in a soap opera or fallout-out parody of weepy dramas. Isabel (Michelle Williams) travels to New York to meet Theresa (Moore), a potential donor to the former’s orphanage in India. Subsequently, it is discovered that Theresa’s husband Oscar (Billy Crudup) fathered a daughter with Isabel decades earlier. A daughter whom Oscar secretly kept despite saying he supported the decision to put her up for adoption. Of course, the daughter has also been told her birth mother died. If this absurd sequence of events has already overwhelmed you, be warned: it only gets crazier.
Perhaps the most striking difference between Freundlind’s AFTER THE WEDDING and the original is the gender-swapped leads. This notably requires the script to spend more time explaining the twist I mentioned above (Mads Mikkelsen’s character from the Danish film conceived a child without knowing, which is much simpler than the cancelled adoption). In my opinion, neither Moore nor Crudup justify such an unnecessary change. Considering Theresa’s arc and overly expressive scenes throughout the film’s second half, I can’t help but wonder if all this extra work was done to give Moore the showiest role. By contrast, Crudup just isn’t given much to do beyond reacting to his scene partners. Thankfully, Williams’ subtle performance makes it possible to look past Freundlind’s contrivances. For instance, there are a lot of cliched close-ups of actors silently contemplating. It’s no small effort to convey the impact of so many twists alongside Isabel’s enigmatic past, but Williams consistently nails it with mere glances.
Speaking of the core trio, the equal focus Freundlind attempts to grant them feels indecisive and muddles the film’s perspective. Particularly during the first 20 minutes, there are awkward cuts between long scenes of Isabel, Theresa, and Oscar that go nowhere and don’t clarify the characters’ relationships. Basically, the audience is held captive until we’re far enough into the film for it to reveal the twist. This is exemplified by opening on Isabel’s orphanage, a charming, gorgeously shot setting which is mostly forgotten about for the rest of the film. I loved seeing Isabel’s life in India and wish it had been shown more, yet it feels out of place for the story Freundlind is trying to tell. Similarly, Oscar’s career as a sculptor gets a weird amount of attention, ostensibly so he can deliver a cringe- worthy monologue about how he carefully chooses his materials much like he chose to keep his daughter.
Out of all the adaptations I’ve seen, AFTER THE WEDDING falls flatly in the middle. If you’re willing to go along with its absurdity, you’ll still be watching a great performance from Michelle Williams. Nevertheless, I’d still recommend watching the Danish version afterwards. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than Freundlind’s pale imitation.
So, to try and explain the story - Howard North is a hapless sewerage worker who finds himself in the shit (literally and figurately). It begins when his co-worker, Rangi (Epine Bob Savea) downloads a new app on his phone that lets him see ghosts. But it does way more than that, as Demon Hunter Luther (David Wenham) explains early on in the film, “...some evil bastard worked out how to blast demons through the internet. Now they can get you through your phone.” And when they get you, your spirit, and the energy that goes with it is sucked through the ether (somehow) and absorbed as food and power by the evil demon Finnegan (Monica Bellucci) who want to control everyone and take over the world. But when Howard finds himself blasted by Rangi’s app, for some reason (that will be revealed later) he ends up in the company of Luther and two other Demon Hunters, Molly (Caroline Ford) and Torquel (Tess Haubrich) and before long, Howard is a Demon Hunter too, on a mission to save the world from Finnegan. When you say it all like that, it all sounds pretty silly but that’s part of what makes this film enjoyable. It’s so silly, that you kind of can’t resist.
The thing that NEKROTRONIC really has going for it is a great central performance from Ben O’Toole as Howard. He spends most of the film vacillating between being bemused and incredulous by the things that are happening to him and the more serious he is about it the funnier it is. He’s well balanced by Savea whose character Rangi (for reasons I won’t spoil) keeps popping up in scenes in the most unexpected ways. His performance is funny and endearing but never overused. Bellucci, on the other hand, plays her demon to the limit and beyond in a style that approaches pantomime. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a good thing, but the bizarre storyline of this film couldn’t work without it.
One of the things that propelled Wyrmwood across the screen was the palpable energy and enthusiasm of director and co-writer Kiah Roache-Turner and his brother, co-writer Tristan. In that case (for me, at least) what was being propelled was so laissez-faire in its structure and intent that it was hard to follow and even harder to enjoy. With NEKROTRONIC, the brothers seem to have a stronger core to their bizarre story and have created characters that, whilst still larger-than-life and over-the-top, have some clearer purpose and substance to them. This time around, their energy and enthusiasm seem infused with a sense of joy and confidence in the work that is infectious. This time around I care... and the investment in their bizarre, chaotic silliness pays off.