Tag Archives: Steve Little

CAPSULE: WRONG COPS (2013)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mark Burnham, , Arden Myrin, , , Marilyn Manson

PLOT: Los Angeles cops sell weed (hidden in dead rats), harass aerobics dancers, blackmail each other, and compose electronica; anything but fight crime.

Still from Wrong Cops (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With a few exceptions (like a fatally wounded music aficionado who refuses to kick the bucket), this black comedy is missing the unique conceptual meta-humor of Quentin Dupieux’s first two movies. It plays more like mildly edgy sketch comedy—it’s almost mainstream.

COMMENTS: One strange lesson you’ll take out of Wrong Cops is that American peace officers love European-style techno music. The other lesson is that, although Quentin Dupieux does surreal comedy well, his general outlook is too bemusedly sunny (a la genial absurdists like ) to create a truly biting satire about policemen behaving badly. True nastiness doesn’t seem to be in Dupieux’s makeup, so Wrong Cops ends up being more like Bad Grandpa than Bad Lieutenant. Although the movie’s cops are intended to be morally corrupt, only Mark Burnham‘s Officer Duke comes off as totally depraved; Eric Wareheim’s breast-obsessed patrolman, for example, is far too teddy-bearish to disturb, even when he’s forcing women to disrobe at gunpoint. The desire to make a black comedy about cops behaving badly mixes poorly with this director’s basic lack of cynicism. (The unexpected sweetness of Dolph’s search for his missing dog in Wrong was a better fit for his sensibilities). The not-quite-dead body that is never disposed of is one dark moment that works, as is Officer Duke’s spontaneous, pot-fueled eulogy about Hell on Earth that closes the film, but in general the somewhat flat comedy routines are more mild than wild.

With five cops to follow (plus a pair of gay officers who show up occasionally but don’t have a plotline of their own), there’s a lot going on, and Dupieux makes the movie into something of a L.A. block party by inviting a number of recognizable bit players. Eric Roberts stops by as a movie director, and is in there for a few minutes, while her “Twin Peaks” hubby has a slightly larger role as a police chief presiding at a funeral. Marilyn Manson (out of makeup) plays a hassled teenager; despite the fact that he’s in his forties, he is actually surprisingly convincing as a misfit kid. Unobtrusive but obvious references to Rubber and Wrong are also placed in the movie for Dupieux fans. The sprawling cast adds to the sketch-comedy feel, although the overarching plot (which is partly told out of sequence) is more carefully constructed than most viewers give it credit for: if Officer Duke never harasses David Delores Frank about his taste in electronica, the movie’s big tragedy never occurs. Dupieux’s core fan base will probably be pleased with this entry—and it does have its weirdly funny moments—but personally, I’m getting diminishing returns on his unique sense of humor with each subsequent film. The abstract meta-comedy that seemed rule-rewriting in Rubber has become expected and merely entertaining by the time we reach Wrong Cops.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…tonally weird and totally forgettable.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle

SATURDAY SHORT: RAT PACK RAT (2014)

Sundance Film Festival has a knack for featuring shorts that test how much our stomachs can tolerate, and how absurd a storyline can get while still drawing in our empathy. Rat Pack Rat left me with a discomfort not dissimilar to Bobby Miller’s Tub, that premiered at Sundance in 2010. I probably won’t put myself through watching it twice, but I’m very glad I watched it once.

Content Warning: This short contains strong adult situations.

LIST CANDIDATE: THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Robert Longstreet

PLOT: A goofy priest who seems more concerned with funny stories and YouTube videos than Jesus Christ sets out on a canoe trip with his childhood icon Robbie, a musician who dated his sister in high school.  As they paddle down the river, more details about their history are revealed, and things get really weird when they meet fellow travelers posing as characters from Huckleberry Finn.

Still from The Catechism Cataclysm


WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It starts off as a funny, somewhat quirky canoe trip, relying on dialogue and a few offbeat stories to entertain its audience. But then it gets weird. Really weird. I’d say the last 20 minutes are weird enough to make up for the comparative normalcy of the preceding 50.

COMMENTS: When the effervescent Father Billy first meets up with his middle school idol at a roadside diner, he accidentally drops his bible (which he gets autographed by musicians) in a diarrhea-filled toilet bowl. This sets the stage for a story that is deceptively average on the surface, but delightfully deranged underneath, finally showing its true colors during the final sequence. Their journey is peppered with some strange side-stories, from a heat-packing granny to a suicidal businessman who can’t die, along with some effectively ominous filming techniques and a heavy metal soundtrack that humorously clashes with the bucolic river landscape. While there are flashes of weirdness throughout, nothing truly prepares the viewer for the big Weird payoff at the end, which I will not spoil for you.

Father Billy is a well-meaning goofball with an oblivious, clingy personality, and it’s never actually clear why he would become a priest—an occupation that takes remarkable dedication and sacrifice—in the first place. He seems perfectly content to sit around listening to 80’s metal and drinking milk. His dips into unpriestly behavior (lying to his superior, drinking beer, etc) coincide with dire circumstances that should be enough to completely shake his faith. Steve Little puts in an offbeat performance, making Father Billy just slightly creepy enough for viewers to question exactly what is going on here. In contrast, Longstreet’s portrayal of Robbie is so open and believable, he stands as a pillar of ordinariness and often represents the audience’s own reactions to Billy’s off-putting characteristics.

The Catechism Cataclysm is a difficult film to encapsulate. It’s a mish-mash of high school reunion-esque reflection, Catholic introspection, fascinating urban legend storytelling, and off-the-walls absurdity that winds its way into an enjoyable, funny, decidedly memorable experience. Overall, it’s an impressive show of irreverence and eccentricity from a director with a foundation in mumblecore.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

A dryly absurd road comedy with the caveat being that they core duo are floating down a river rather than driving along a road… This is down home Americana re-imagined as gradually escalating dementia with a dark yet still sweetly naive edge.”–Todd Brown, Twitch