Tag Archives: 2015

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: CRUMBS (2015)

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DIRECTED BY: Miguel Llansó

FEATURING: , Selam Tesfayie, Mengistu Berhanu, Tsegaye Abegaz

PLOT: A long-dormant spaceship hovers over an apocalypse-blasted earth, so Candy goes on a quest to secure himself a seat on board.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Plenty of post-apocalyptic movies capture the dregs of civilization as well as Crumbs, but no others that I can think of have a “raised-hand” spaceship, Michael Jordan the god, or Santa Claus inside a bowling alley ball-return.

COMMENTS: Smirking absurdism and epic pathos are in constant tension in Miguel Llansó’s directorial debut. This friction is perfectly encapsulated during an encounter near the end of Crumbs, when we watch the protagonist, Candy, unbutton his shirt—in a display of machismo directed at a burnt-out Santa Claus—to reveal the iconic “Superman” garb. Only, Santa doesn’t recognize it, saying “it looks like a Nazi symbol.” This quip cuts right to the chase: the “superman” was a Nazi ideal, and it was such displays of toxic machismo that brought about the nuclear war.

“Crumbs” aptly describes of what civilization has been reduced to: scavenging and subsistence-level survival, all man’s machines crumbled to rust. Crumbs intersperses its quest narrative with history-laced interludes courtesy of a pawnbroker to whom various wanderers try to sell their findings. A cheap plastic “Max Steel” sword toy is not, as is commonly presumed, from the great artist “Carrefor“, but by “Mattelo“; a Samurai Turtle dated “third century” was “worn by Molegon warriors as a lucky amulet”; “Dangerous“, by Michael Jackson—a third-century farmer—is a gift worthy for a wedding. These items, and more, are crumbs left along Candy’s path as he travels to find Santa Claus in an abandoned pond in the old city.

The narrative is triggered by ominous signs at the bowling alley which Candy (Daniel Tadesse) and Birdy (Selam Tesfayie) have adopted as their home, untold numbers of years after a hinted-at world war. Birdy is convinced that the spaceship—which had hitherto been idling in the sky—has begun to start its engines, and the magnetic field being emitted has triggered the alley’s lights to flicker and the ball-return machine to reactivate. Candy goes off to find the one man who can secure their place on board, while Birdy stays home. She regularly prays at their shrine to Michael Jordan, but is haunted by the voice coming from the ball-return. Investigating it, she finds Santa Claus inside, pacing around a display of toys, asking what her Christmas wish is.

While Llansó’s sophomore feature tickled with its high energy and zany surrealism, Crumbs is a more contemplative work. Its tongue-in-cheek tone is couched within a soft, dreamy tone. The natural beauty of Ethiopia’s wildlands, alongside decayed industrial hulks of machinery, is on full display at the hands of an able and loving cinematographer. Candy is an unlikely hero, a deformed (though not un-handsome) fellow trying to do right by his lover. The weight of Crumbs‘ reality anchors the absurdity until the final moments of the credits. The spaceship sails peacefully toward the æther as two men inside talk about vintage music; then it explodes. Even if reduced to crumbs, Earth is all we’ll have.

Crumbs is available for separate purchase, but it was also released as a bonus feature on Arrow’s 2020 Limited Edition Blu-ray of Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…it’s hard not to succumb at least somewhat to this sci-fi whatsit’s strange, whimsical spell.”–Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MY HINDU FRIEND (2015)

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DIRECTED BY: Hector Babenco

FEATURING: Willem Dafoe, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Guilherme Weber, Rio Adlakha, Selton Mello

PLOT: Diego Fairman is an Argentinian filmmaker of modest fame whose apparently terminal cancer has prompted him to be a jerk to all of those around him; then again, he’s always been a jerk to those around him.

COMMENTS: Like most of you, I’m a fan of the musician Taco Ockerse and his gold-certified album, “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” The plucky Western German had a smooth crooner’s voice and used his musical talents to drag hits from the mid-20th century into the 1980s’ New Wave. Three such songs featured in Hector Babenco’s My Hindu Friend. That’s not to say they used Taco’s versions, but “Ma Vie En Rose,” “Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” and Singin’ in the Rain form a trifecta of “Why is this song here, now, doing this?” in a movie ripped straight from The Hallmark Channel Presents: Fellini‘s Night of Melodrama.

Babenco presents a film a variant of himself, like Fellini did.  Babenco revels in whimsical dream interludes, like Fellini did. Babenco’s movie just sort of trails off at the end, like Fellini’s… (I’ll stop myself before completing that sentence so as to keep the comment hounds at bay.) Suffice it to say, My Hindu Friend is intensely personal: the upshot of which is that those of us who aren’t actually in the movie can merely try to enjoy Willem Dafoe moping around a hospital, moping around a Seattle mansion, and moping around his trendy home in Argentina.

It took over half an hour for me to find what could have possibly brought this on to 366’s radar. After untold days/weeks/months in hospital undergoing a bone-marrow transplant (and a similarly-feeling number of minutes), Diego starts hallucinating Death—who, in a refreshing twist, is just a work-a-day guy who’s having problems with his wife. There’s talk of the afterlife, but no secrets are  revealed; apparently such revelations are above Death’s pay grade. There are discussions about cinema. And, of course, there’s a game of chess—’cause that’s something a film fanatic might hallucinate while weakened to the core and dosed up on morphine.

Morphine. Yes, I would have preferred more morphine shots, as that not only brought forth the affable Death character, but also the only show-stopping scene in My Hindu Friend. In the middle of the night, the heavily-drugged Diego awakens singing a song through his breathing apparatus before removing it and, wonderfully, crooning into it as if it were a microphone. The song going through the dope-addled director’s mind? “Dancing Cheek to Cheek.”

And that titular Hindu friend? A young boy he meets in the infusion room at the hospital during his cancer treatment. The ailing director tells this narrative crutch anecdotes, ultimately living through fantasy stories as he does his best to comfort the eight-year-old whom the cosmos considered deserving of such a terrible fate. I’m rambling at this point, but I blame the movie. Touching, certainly; well-produced, without a doubt; but—well, I think I’m just going to trail off here…

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…told from [Diego’s] perspective, in an alternately surreal, reflective (though never sentimental) fashion with Fellini-esque flights of frank sexuality, eroticism and existential whimsy…”–Jarrod Walker, FilmInc (streaming)

CAPSULE: STAR LEAF (2015)

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DIRECTED BY: Richard Cranor

FEATURING: Julian Gavilanes, Tyler Trerise, Shelby Trerise, Russell Hodgkinson

PLOT: Ex-Marine James Hunter is stricken with PTSD after a tour of duty in Afghanistan; back home, he finds a trek to discover the legendary “star leaf” strain of marijuana to be less relaxing than he’d prefer.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aliens, drugs, and psychedelia do not a weird movie make. But in the case of Star Leaf, they do somehow make a rather enjoyable exploration of redemption.

COMMENTS: I’ve watched a great many films over the years, both professionally and otherwise, deserving of their IMDb ratings in the low single digits. Some are gloriously inept; others, just straight-up inept. Despite this, it was without trepidation that I sat down to watch Richard Cranor’s stoner/horror/sci-fi outing, Star Leaf. Despite having attended one of those herb-laced, East Coast liberal arts colleges, I’ve never quite understood the allure of marijuana. Fortunately, while Star Leaf is heavy on the cannabis, the weed merely serves as the leafy wrapping over a heart-felt, and fairly funny, musing on PTSD.

James (Julian Gavilanes) is a Marine sniper in the Hindu Kush, stationed with his friend Tim (Tyler Trerise). During a hillside stake-out, Tim encourages James to embrace the “pink mist” and take a shot at a boy whom they witness being fitted with a suicide vest. Fast-forward two years to civilian life in the Pacific Northwest, James, still haunted by this event, joins Tim and his girl Martha (Shelby Trerise) on a different mission: to find, and smoke, the fabled “Star Leaf,” a powerful strain of marijuana allegedly left on earth by extra-terrestrials. Things get crazy and then a little sinister when a strange Park Ranger appears mid-buzz.

There is a lot that Star Leaf doesn’t get right. The extra-terrestrial angle is underdeveloped (or should have been ignored); grey alien-types appear from behind trees every now and again and hassle the drug seekers without much purpose and zero scares. A time-loop/stacked realities “thing” doesn’t stack up logically, even allowing for the speculative physics. And then there’s the final problem that I often have with horror films: having made some fairly interesting characters, the director seems happy enough to kill them off. Or does he?

That final ambiguity is also problematic, but I know I’m giving you the wrong impression. Star Leaf actually hits a lot of right notes: witty banter, a good message, and yet another of those great nightmare-vision police officers (or, as he repeatedly corrects the trio while tapping his shoulder insignia, “Park Ranger”). This sinisterly-stilted entity is played by none-other than director Richard Cranor, and his Ranger Dave goes a long way to making Star Leaf into an odd-ball mix of hipster/stoner “Twilight Zone.” Russell Hodgkinson even appears as the ex-biker, still-Jewish stoner guru (if that name isn’t familiar, he plays a doctor in The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle). And then there’s the underlying message: forgiveness of one’s self and others. Star Leaf has all the makings of a “throw-away” movie (as well as a “throw-away” review), but it’s one those gems that makes the trash heap worth sifting through.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the biggest qualm is in the form of the film’s second half… It’s unclear whether this is all just a part of the bad trip from the weed (judging from their weird trips after first smoking), or if it’s really happening. As such, there’s a question of whether the situation is a dangerous one or just head games. There’s just never a concrete feeling of real fear for the characters’ wellbeing, which is off-putting when there are aliens and terrorists after you.”–Mike Wilson, Bloody Disgusting (contemporaneous)