Tag Archives: Emile Hirsch

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SPEED RACER (2008)

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DIRECTED BY: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)

FEATURING: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Roger Allam

PLOT: He’s Speed Racer, and he drives real fast; the corporate goons at Royalton Enterprises fail to hire him, and so try to sabotage his family and career.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Made up of equal parts technical prowess, tremendous passion, and mind-boggling stupidity, the Wachowski siblings poured all their knowledge, soul, and their massive bag of Matrix-era goodwill into this videogame-cum-technicolor-comedy-melodrama that, while obviously the movie they had in mind, raises the question of whether or not it actually should have been assembled at all.

COMMENTS: Our weekly to-do list of new and re-released opportunities was sparse, so I instead pondered the Venn diagram of “reader suggested movies” and “movies I have access to.” Three titles presented themselves, and it was Speed Racer that managed to zip to the top of that last. (This may have been, in part, because its alphabetical position meant it was the closest to my Blu-ray player.) I hadn’t seen this movie since before I began working with 366, and it was just a hazy memory of bright colors, flying sparks, and a strange pathos provided by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. My memory did not disappoint me.

As a facsimile of a racing computer game, Speed Racer has just enough plot to justify the on-screen zip-bang-light-up race shots. Speed Racer (née “Speed Racer”, played by Emile Hirsch at his charmingly blandest) lives up to his name and follows in the Racer Family tradition of racing race-cars. (His older brother, Rex Racer, disgraced the family and died in a horrible explosion during a sketchy rally race.) Purple-clad corporate bad guy E.P. Arnold Royalton, Esq. (played with effete glee by Roger Allam) tries to woo Speed to work for Royalton, Inc.—but Speed has none of it. Not used to being snubbed, Royalton uses his considerable resources to destroy the Racer family, not knowing that in the end, “the truth will out.”

I’m admittedly a sucker for a well-told story, no matter how stupid the underlying material. This movie brings stupid into overdrive with countless “just because” elements. There are Cockney gangsters who act as fixers and enforcers; there is, among other themed teams, a Viking racing crew obsessed with animal fur; and then there’s the thread that boldly attempts to hold this movie together, the “Inspector Detector” character investigating corruption in the racing leagues. (The less said about the recurring deus-ex-Spritle/Chimp-machina, the better.) The Wachowskis then painted all this with halogen colors that would have sent more cynical members of our staff into a tailspin of bitter, whiskey-fueled reproaches.

I am not that sort. I can appreciate the fact this extravaganza had an estimated $120,000,000 poured into it. I can also believe that it did not recoup the outlay. But that’s why it falls so firmly into our orbit. To see two of the best technical film-makers of their day so wholeheartedly stake their years-built reputation with something as confounding as Speed Racer gives me, at least, hope. (What gem might, say, Michael Bay concoct if told he could really do anything?) The Wachowskis did the world a disservice with the whole Matrix nonsense. They made up for it with Speed Racer: a movie that had me rooting for the good guy even as my eyes melted and my brain tried to shout down the cacophony of electro-Singh-visuals, “Lifetime Channel” monologues, and top-tier talent somehow grounding this eye-candy-fluorescence. The stars are likely to never be so aligned again.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This toxic admixture of computer-generated frenzy and live-action torpor succeeds in being, almost simultaneously, genuinely painful — the esthetic equivalent of needles in eyeballs — and weirdly benumbing, like eye candy laced with lidocaine.”–Joe Morgenstren, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: FREAKS (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Zach Lipovsky, Adam Stein

FEATURING: Lexy Kolker, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Amanda Crew

PLOT: Chloe’s father keeps her boarded up in a dilapidated house to protect her from an unspecified danger; outside, an ice cream truck driver waits for his chance to free the girl.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTFreaks has a very Hollywood feel to it, though it subverts the genre to a fair degree. It feels like a thinking man’s X-Men movie.

COMMENTS: The trials of fatherhood, the uncertainty of childhood, and pervasive agora-claustrophobia all come together with wonder and menace in Freaks, the final film of Fantasia’s final weekend slot. It acted as a nice finishing note of the festival’s main event. Appropriately, Fantasia was the final festival stop for Lipovsky’s and Stein’s baby (not just co-directors, they also wrote the screenplay together). For them and the audience, Freaks provided a climactic blast of pizzazz before things began to wind down in Montréal.

Despite her protestations, we learn fairly early that Chloe (Lexy Kolker, as impressive a 10-year-old actress as I’ve ever seen) is not normal. She’s trained by her ever-exhausted father (Emile Hirsch) to spout an origin story on demand, and be able to ad lib responses in case she’s pressed about details. Why must she worry about the “people out there who want to kill [her]”? The ever-looming ice-cream man, “Mr Snowcone” (Bruce Dern) knows the answer; he’s been hoping to get a moment to abduct (rescue?) her for some time now. Trapped at home, Chloe spends much of her days drawing and pining for her lost mother (Amand Crew). By night, she’s haunted by a wailing figure in her closet. One day, the father passes out after being injured while out getting supplies, and Chloe takes the opportunity to escape and get that chocolate ice cream she’s been hankering for.

Freaks obviously draws comparisons with some contemporary science fiction, but it attempts to address its thorny issues in a way that’s more realistic. What would you do if you were raised in abject fear of everyone but your family? What would you do if that family seemed hell-bent on stifling everything about you that was special? While Lipovsky and Stein obviously frame the story to engender sympathy for Chloe and her family (they are the main characters, after all), they do provide ambient hints about what the rest of society feels the other. As in the more famous movie with the title, this new Freaks forces the audience to themselves just how comfortable they could be with fellow humans are completely out of the norm.

Freaks‘ greatest achievement, however, is how it fleshed out such a thorough world needing so few resources. Nearly all of the action takes place in one run-down house (with occasional forays to a mountain prison). To flesh out their story, the directors use sound to great effect (be it in the form of news channel snippets or the ominous drone of an unseen helicopter) in addition to channeling the narrative through the eyes of Chloe, who despite having been shut-in all her seven years, has maintained her sense of wonder and hope. Speaking of, here’s hoping that these two filmmaker fellows make their mark with this: I don’t generally approve of the word “franchise”, but I would love to see more of this “freakish” world they’ve created.

You can also listen to our interview with co-creators Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein (which may contain mild spoilers).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a cleverly constructed, thrilling and often super-surreal coming-of-age story that gets right into your head.”–Anton Bitel, SciFiNow (festival screening)

CAPSULE: AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN (2018)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Aubrey Plaza, , Craig Robinson, , Matt Berry

PLOT: Lulu is unhappy with her cappuccino-store managing husband, so she runs off with a man who stole money from him to go see an old flame’s “one night only” performance at a nearby hotel.

Still from An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (2018)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though advertised in-film as a “magical” evening with Beverly Luff Linn, the onscreen evening is not so much “magical” as “eccentric.” Luff Linn is a hulking teddy bear, leaking stuffing, and with one eye holding on by a thread. It stays surprisingly true to romantic comedy conventions while employing light, sub-Brechtian alienation techniques.

COMMENTS: For a few viewers, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn will be their first exposure to the weird world of Jim Hosking. Most, especially readers of this site, will be drawn to it to see what the director of 2016’s transgressive The Greasy Strangler would come up with given a bigger budget and professional actors. The answer is that he compromised by scaling back the most aggressively bizarre elements of his shock debut, while still indulging in enough skewed reality to keep the comedy firmly on the surreal side of the ledger. So, for example, in Luff Linn you will see cigarette snuffed out in an absurdly oversized meatball, but no baths in vats of half-congealed grease; a couple of characters repeating the word “immediately” across scenes, but no painfully extended “bullshit artist” segments; Craig Robinson in a 40s-style one-piece bathing suit, but no full-frontal prosthetic nudity. Whereas Strangler felt a little dangerous, like  meets , Beverly is more like a  awkward/quirky concoction, slightly out of step with reality, but without the offal and outrageousness. The results are not entirely satisfactory, but they are also not nearly as much of a sell-out as they might have been.

The plot, although a bit shaggy, is not so bad, with Lulu’s urge to reconnect with a younger and more vital romance bumping up against a couple of subplots in her husband’s suburban gangsta theft of a cashbox and Luff Lin’s mysterious melancholy (which results in his only being able to communicate in Frankenstein grunts for the much of the movie). Aubrey Plaza’s sarcastic resentment, Jermaine Clement’s clueless earnestness, and Emile Hirsch’s petty criminality are perfect matches to the material, but Craig Robinson doesn’t come over as the kind of charismatic mentor Lulu would fall for (which is perhaps part of the joke), and Matt Berry makes little impression as Luff Lin’s platonic partner/manager. Hoskins sprinkles in supporting performances from a couple of his regular stock company: Sky Elobar as a cappuccino-store henchman and Sam “potato” Dissanayake as an angry yet polite convenience store owner. He also finds a few more odd-faced weirdos to add freaky texture in a moon-faced toady and a hulking, pasty hotel clerk with a Ren-faire hairstyle. Though set in the present day, the anachronistic circa 1970s wardrobe choices—Colin’s turtleneck sweater and amber-tinted tinted eyeglasses—garb a world out of whack. It’s the kind of movie where three amateur robbers go on a robbery wearing women’s wigs as disguises, but never bother to cover their familiar faces. Low synths lay a doomy horror movie soundtrack over what is basically a light comedy, adding yet another level of alienation.

And yet, for all its absurdist insouciance, Luff Linn surprisingly has heart—something conspicuously lacking in Greasy Strangler. The boy gets the girl—the right boy gets the girl. The sentimentality may be a put-on, or it may be a concession, but it feels like an honest choice.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not perfect, and it certainly isn’t for everyone, but oddballs who love weirdo cinema will probably get a kick out of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn.”–Diedre Crimmins, High-Def Digest (festival screening)

CAPSULE: KILLER JOE (2011)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Matthew McConaughey, , Thomas Hayden Church, Gina Gershon

PLOT: A poor Texas family encounters serious trouble after a shady murder deal to acquire a life insurance policy on the mother goes totally wrong.

Still from Killer Joe (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although the film is exceptionally well made and immensely entertaining, it’s a rather straight exploitation film that uses crassness, violence and exaggerated black comedy to comment on the disintegration of American society.  It’s a fantastic film, but not even close to being one of the weirdest of all time. There is only one single scene that could ascend into the sacred cloud of weirdness, and it’s not the one most people are thinking of. Near the beginning of the film, Chris (Emily Hirsch) sees a ghost of his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) in a rather revealing garment, and she stretches her hand out in a peculiar and deliberate way before disappearing. The resultant silent motions and their rapidity gave the scene a creepy feel that was chillingly bizarre. Other than that, this solidly-made shocker doesn’t veer into any territories that are strange enough to stand apart from other movies of its type.

COMMENTS: The distinct flicking sound of a Zippo lighter breaking the black sets the stage for Killer Joe, a film about family, lust, betrayal, and fried chicken. A cavalcade of rednecks, trailers guarded by muscular pooches, booze-hounds, druggies, incest, a nowhere-town pouring with rain and a step mom who refuses to groom her womanly regions follow. By the time the end credits rolled around (with a God-awful country tune in the background), I came to the conclusion that Friedkin and his brilliant cast truly delivered the goods.

Ansel Smith (Thomas Hayden Church) supplies sardonic humor as an utterly careless deadbeat. He is totally subservient to Matthew McConaughey’s Detective Joe Cooper, dutifully responding with “yes sir” after being repeatedly humiliated. He accepts a plan to murder his ex-wife as a chance to get some extra cash, and he appears to be unconcerned for the danger his son Chris is in. The comedy of the film mostly centers on Ansel’s goofy and dim-witted assessments of the terrible trouble his family is in, while the darker aspects come from McConaughey’s complete depravity and manipulation of the Smith family. Throw in an unfaithful wife and a son who cuts too many corners (Chris is shown gambling at the tracks even when he owes money to mobsters), and you see that the rest of the family isn’t much different. Dottie is nuts as the virgin sister, standing naked and pigeon toed before a sexually repressed Detective Joe in one of the movie’s more uncomfortable scenes. The scene reflects the widespread and under-reported sexual abuse that happens in America’s domestic landscape, as well as its effect on society at large. Indeed, the “date” scene is one of the few moments in the film that reveals Joe Cooper to be vulnerable, depicting his discomfort and residual frustration while listening to Dottie’s memories of childhood trauma. He quickly and aggressively changes the subject, asking her to put on a black dress, escaping his own feelings by controlling the actions of others. It becomes apparent that these characters share similar psychological issues, but the social leverage created by age and power posit a complete devastation of morals committed by Joe towards the Smith family. Although everyone in the family is up for plenty of misdeeds and rotten amorality, it is McConaughey’s deliberately physical performance that lingers to sinister effect here. Notice the way he walks around a room, slowly calculating not only his words but the environment itself, checking to make sure everything is exactly as it should be, eyes intense and exerting absolute control at all times.

The tightness and coherence of Killer Joe‘s structure cannot be understated. It weaves its way through its sickening plot with grace, while including a plenitude of seemingly mundane details that enhance characterization while efficiently raising the suspense level as the story runs its course towards the nasty climax. An example of this kind of cyclical plot device can be seen when Detective Joe manipulatively turns off the television each time he enters the Smith family’s house. Near the end of the film, we are expecting him to yet again turn off the television as he walks towards it, but instead he picks it up and smashes it on the ground, signaling the beginning of his most overtly heinous act in the film and establishing his right to complete dominance over the family. Another sublimely subtle connection occurs when Digger playfully mentions his reluctance to stay away from fried chicken right before he orders his biker-goons to beat Chris to a bloody pulp. It foreshadows the upcoming shock-scene quite nicely. It’s clear that Digger, Joe, and Rex (Chris’s mom’s boyfriend, flaunting a loud yellow Corvette) represent the American business/ruling class in the film, and the Smith family can be seen as the desperate underclass willing to forsake morality, dignity, and intelligence to survive their hopeless economic state. As in Friedkin’s Bug, the main characters are desperate to the point of delusion, only this time their vile acts of familial betrayal for the sake of capital stretch them into larger representations of disintegration, stagnation, and ignorance. We feel some sympathy for Chris, who is shown as being slightly justified in his attempts to shield his sister from Joe, a fact highlighted to amplify the downright anarchic ending. McConaughey completely elevates himself as an actor in the ending of this film, gleefully abandoning his accumulated social precisions to expressions of ecstatic sexual bliss as he brutalizes the family. Church makes us smirk while we are watching horrific violence by acting oblivious to it, even while participating in it. One final and devastating note is dropped before the credits that implies these cycles of violence and stupidity will continue. It may be some time before I get hungry for fried chicken again.

Killer Joe was adapted from his own play by Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Tracy Letts.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…lurches from realism to corn-pone absurdism and exploitation-cinema surrealism. Such lurching isn’t necessarily bad and could have proved entertaining. Yet… it feels as if Mr. Friedkin is consistently controlled by the story’s excesses rather than in control of them.”–Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “e.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)