Honey Boy and The Peanut Butter Falcon: My name is Shia…and I’m an actor.

Oh yeah, Daddy, your boy’s all growed up. Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Here are the titles from Shia LeBeouf’s mid-20teens oeuvre: Lawless (2012); Nymphomaniac (2013); Fury (2014); Man Down (2015). Sounds like he was trying to tell us something…

Maybe Shia was using his later roles to get the hotheads and assholes out of his system (he even played John McEnroe in 2016) but it obviously wasn’t working. His behavior on and off set was earning him a reputation as difficult and pretentious, and what with the fringe indie films and his personal ‘performance art’, he was getting to smell like Vincent Gallo. Time for a rethink. 

So for 2019, instead of all his lawless fury, LeBeouf has given us peanut butter and honey, and I for one am eating it up.

The Peanut Butter Falcon sounds like a band name that Blind Melon rejected, but the movie is way better than that. Shia plays a po’ Carolina crabber with a secret Equinox membership and a bad habit of stealing crabs from other po’ but mean crabbers. On the run, he stumbles upon Zak, a young man with Down syndrome (Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome), also on the run after escaping an assisted care facility. Zak’s pursuer is Dakota Johnson, and the three end up on a Tom Sawyer adventure to get Zak to his dream, a pro wrestling training camp.

Yes, there are the plot points you’d expect as Shia’s self-destructive loner softens to the innocence of Zak and charms the girl who’s way out of his league but can’t resist his new tatted, Tom Hardy-ness (that might have been just me, #shialebuff). Sweet and earnest is not typical Shia territory of late, but his performance is solid and committed as always. He’s clearly getting a charge sharing the movie with an actor perceived as a misfit, on-screen and off. Maybe playing opposite Zack had Shia seeing his own grievances as petty compared to a young man trying to make an acting career in the face of actual hardship and public judgement.

Or maybe not. Toward the end of production on PBFalcon, Shia got in a bar fight with a townie and went into rehab.

While I’m sure he was petulantly rolling his eyes at 11 of the 12 Steps, Shia clearly embraced the ‘Apologize To Your Inner Child’ one. While in rehab he finally got the lead asshole – his father – out of his system, by writing the autobiographical screenplay for Honey Boy, and personally taking on the role of his pater assholius.

Shia LeBeouf playing his own dad opposite another actor playing Shia LeBeouf I guess was too meta even for Shia, so he changes everyone’s names. LeBeouf Sr is called James Lort (lort!), and Shia LeBeouf is called Otis Lort, played by Noah Jupe in the Even Stevens era and by Lucas Hedges as an adult. They’re both really good, especially Jupe, but Shia, playing someone he knows so intimately, can’t help but own the film, physically and emotionally.

If not for managing 12-year-old Otis/Shia’s work as a child actor, his failed performer of a father – who could be best described as a rodeo clown sans rodeo – would be completely untethered, yet the man refuses to squelch his resentment toward his son’s success. From day-to-day, Shia (I’m using the real names, goddammit) never knows if he’ll get the nasty clown or the sad clown or the clown telling him he has a small penis. While Shia’s dedication to his acting gives him a safe space, he’s still vulnerable to father worship, and mimics dad’s self-destructive behavior in an attempt to bond. LeBeouf the screenwriter couldn’t avoid the boy-seeking-dad’s-love trope – he is a child of Hollywood, after all – but the narrative is realistic in keeping LeBeouf Sr emotionally stunted and Shia practical about what he can ever expect from the man. 

One thing you can’t say about Shia LeBeouf is that he was ever shitty in a movie, and there are many lauded actors who have turned in groaningly misguided performances. No matter how frivolous the vehicle, Shia has always immersed himself in his roles, finding the juiciest part of a character and making him alive in ways the script or director can’t. And Honey Boy shows he can do the same as a writer. In one telling scene, Otis/Shia is being arrested for drunken conduct. Instead of spouting the cliché “Do you know who I am?!”, he yells, “Do you know how good I am at what I do?!”, insisting that talent, not celebrity, is what deserves deference.

I can think of 2 or 3 high-profile films this year alone that would have been better served with LeBeouf in them, so let’s hope The Peanut Butter Falcon and Honey Boy get filmmakers sweet on him again, because god forbid the future of leading men is left in the emo arms of Timothee Chalamet and Robert Pattinson.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, and Honey Boy opens nationwide tomorrow, November 7.

#movies #moviereview #ratedfritz #honeyboy #thepeanutbutterfalcon #shialebeouf #oscarbait

The Lighthouse: Men will jerk off to anything.

“Just close your eyes and think of Kristen.” Photo courtesy of A24

Imagine waiting in an endless line behind two guys who smell like cigarettes and BO to see a new Anish Kapoor sculpture that turns out to be a giant light bulb. The artist provides no explanation, assigns no purpose or meaning to the work. It’s simply something he has deemed Art, and you like it or you don’t get it.

You have to really, really, reeeeeealy like Art to make it through The Lighthouse.

It does, aesthetically at least, fit the definition. It’s shot in black&white and shown in a square format. Every single scene looks like it could be framed and hung in a Palo Alto condo. In fact, you get the sense that this director sold the movie by taking a bunch of great stills and then letting everyone play with them like refrigerator magnet poetry. 

Here’s the set-up: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe have to live in tight quarters while they watch over a lighthouse on a tiny, isolated island. They’re supposed to be grizzled and haggard, but Dafoe’s character keeps pointing out how Pattinson’s character is too pretty for his job, and we wonder why this never crossed the director’s mind. So while Dafoe is as natural to the film’s setting as the barnacles and seaweed and raggety gulls, the movie has to keep finding ways to dirty up Pattinson, and nothing sticks, including his accent. 

Dafoe is named Thomas and is a dick to Pattinson’s Ephraim, who is made to do all the shit work (literally) while Thomas gets the easy job of baby-sitting the lighthouse beacon. Thomas is driving Ephraim mad with his farting and spitting and snoring and talking in a ridiculous ‘aar-ye-mateys’ accent, all of which is supposed to be funny, maybe, but seems more like a way to give the director an out when people call the movie silly. I won’t even get into how a movie that has gobs of Thomas’ cum dripping through the floor onto Ephraim can later shy away from the pair kissing after a drunken slow-dance.

Like much of contemporary art, the narrative stridently refuses to follow any format, even in brief moments. It bounces around from satirical nods to its own silliness to sudden and disturbing violence to taking the gross-out factor to a place movies rarely go. It wants to be the Piss Christ of movies, but lacks such a clear cultural commentary. We don’t know what’s important to the plot or even if there is a plot, beyond two guys fighting for the chance to jack off in front of a lighthouse beacon.

Did Thomas just transform into a sea monster? Is that a tail we see under his longjohns? Is he gaslighting Ephraim? Is he in love with Ephraim? Did he kill their replacements to keep Ephraim there with him? Did he rape Ephraim? Did Ephraim rape him? Is Ephraim secretly a murderer on the lam? Do mermaids actually have labial folds? All of these questions are brought up and only that last one is answered (They do! And with this and The Shape of Water, we can finally put the whole ‘how do you fuck a merperson?’ question to rest.).

This director’s previous film, The VVitch, is also strikingly shot, but instead of this mess, it has a narrative as clean and direct as its Puritan setting, so the disturbing ending is earned. The witches are wanton and murderous, but it’s the cruelties perpetrated upon our young female protagonist by a blindly religious and patriarchal society that push her to embrace the coven.

Films don’t have to have big messages like female empowerment to resonate, but in The Lighthouse, all we’re given is some dom/sub teasing and Ephraim going nuts (or is he?), and with no other point, no other character to care about, it’s all just an exercise in torturing Robert Pattinson. And OK, Twilight was bad, but he doesn’t deserve this.

The Lighthouse is currently in theaters.

#movies #moviereview #ratedfritz #thelighthouse #oscarbait

New Orleans Film Festival: Jojo Rabbit: Why can’t our fascist leader be this much fun?

“Don’t tell Wes Anderson what we’ve done to Moonrise Kingdom.” Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

At my showing of Jojo Rabbit, the director Taika Waititi appeared on screen before the movie started to tell us his mother is Jewish and that his film is not intended to address hate as much as promote peace. It felt strange, like if Todd Phillips appeared before his Joker movie to let us know he had an OCD cousin and supported background checks.

Obviously Netflix PR felt Waititi had to defend his new film from the criticism that it plays too funny and loose with Nazism. But come on, from Charlie Chaplin to Donald Duck to Mel Brooks, Adolph Hitler and his cohorts have been spoofed plenty, and Waititi’s portrayal of Hitler as a goofy imaginary friend to a 10-year-old boy may differ in tone but not in intent.

The device is fitting with one of the many talents this director has, in this case his ability to see and understand events from the view of an adolescent protagonist. Case in point: we’ve all sat through at least one of those get-off-my-lawn-codger-comes-to-accept-troubled-kid movies. The damn things win Oscars all the time, no matter how tone deaf they are. Waititi’s codger-kid movie was Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but the film’s perspective and sense of humor came from the boy, not the codger, and the result was 100 times more charming and relatable than any Million-Dollar Torino ever was.

In Jojo Rabbit, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a timid boy living in Berlin toward the end of WWII, and his need to fit in makes him vulnerable to Aryan propaganda, which is getting more and more hyperbolic as the Nazis are losing their war. Jojo conjures his version of Hitler as a way to buck up his confidence and fealty during mandatory Nazi youth training. 

This is fanaticism presented from inside the mind of a kid, an idea that could get mired in over-serious dissection. But that’s just not this director. He makes his points with farce, so at first he focuses on the immature and silly aspects of Jojo’s Hitler. But as Jojo starts to see clearer, his Hitler gets testier, less funny and downright threatening.

What opens Jojo’s eyes, what changes his perspective and his Hitler, are the steady influence of his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson with a beautiful balance of steely and loving, and the Jewish girl, Elsa, she’s hiding in the attic, whom Jojo discovers when he’s confined to home after a training injury scars his face and gives him a limp.

Jojo wants the girl to tell him everything about Jews so he can write a book called Yoohoo Jew, intended to educate his fellow Germans about the race. The ‘facts’ he wants her to substantiate are of course all the outrageous anti-Semitic nonsense he’s been fed, and here is the one place I can understand some complaints, as Waititi wallows in humorous depictions of horns and tails and rabbis using foreskins as earplugs. It’s logical that adolescent Jojo would be so fascinated, but the jokes go on longer than they need to.

As the film moves along, Waititi starts folding in more sweet moments and bitter realities, and if you’re not a fan of his style the whole thing could feel curdled. He’s making the point that of course Nazism wasn’t and isn’t funny, but relentlessly depressing depictions of it are not the only way to address it and eventually squelch it.

Love, understanding, and maturity get Jojo past his blind fanaticism. These all take time, and while this process happens to those for whom it needs to happen, the rest of us don’t have to live in the darkness they try to create.

Jojo Rabbit opens nationally on October 18.

#movies #moviereview #ratedfritz #jojorabbit #noff2019 #oscarbait

Dolemite Is My Name: Eddie Murphy will fuck you up.

Netflix tells Eddie Murphy that streaming Mr. Church will not help his career. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Did Eddie Murphy just make me cry?

Fuck you, Eddie, you motherfuckin’, fat-suit-wearin’, donkey-mouthed, Gumby ass, 48-hour dreamgirl. 

For the amount of profanity in Murphy’s new movie, Dolemite Is My Name, it’s surprisingly gentle. A biopic of a performer named Rudy Ray Moore, whose unique style was considered a precursor to rap, the film also serves as a kind of retrospective for Murphy, as he stretches his portrayal of Rudy around every contour of his own illustrious career, from the wiry hustlers of his 80s stand-up and films to the jovial flab of The Nutty Professor, Norbit and Dr Dolittle.

The movie is set in a black LA neighborhood in the 1970s, so we’re in for a lot of afro wigs that look like they were snapped off Lego people. Rudy is a failed singer/actor who discovers that old homeless guys harbor an untapped oral tradition ripe for stand-up material, and instead of alerting Los Angeles that their homeless crisis can be solved by the booking agent at The Comedy Store, he takes the ‘homeless’ material for a few dollars and a pint of whiskey.

Rudy names his new stage persona Dolemite. No explanation is given for the moniker, so we have to guess it refers to an exploding pineapple? Dolemite’s performances sound like limericks that got raped in prison: they’re sorta-metered rhymes involving monkeys talking smack, ducks that fly upside down in Mississippi cause there’s nothing worth shitting on, and the one that made me laugh so hard I upset the old couple next to me, where Dolemite asks a girl if she still has her cherry and she replies “of course I do! It’s just been pushed so far back I could use it as a tail light.” 

The young, urban club audiences love it, but no label will rep Rudy’s profane routines when they’ve got safe choices like Bill Cosby making albums “about kids playin’ in the street and shit” (good one, Rudy…). So as with every 60s/70s set biopic about a struggling outsider artist, it’s the alternative-culture-loving Jews to the rescue. In this case a group of Israelis trying out different accents and wearing their wives’ wigs to look appropriately period-haired step in and help Rudy produce and distribute his underground albums.

Rudy then gets the idea to turn Dolemite into an action hero a la Shaft. As with the Cosby dig earlier, the film finds an organic way to bring up black classism and accommodation when the studio behind Blaxploitation hits like Foxy Brown and Shaft feels they’ve become too high end for the crass Dolemite. 

Rudy risks a loan, even though he could end up a “slave” to his debtors if the movie flops. But he feels he’s making something worthy, and though he plays the starring role, he’s self-aware enough to know he’s no Shaft, and goes about the endeavor egoless, delighting in his friends’ performances and appreciative of the knowledge his technical crew of UCLA film students bring. He’ll step in if the boom guy’s arms are tired or make sandwiches if the crew is hungry.

It is unfortunately required of a biopic that we see the childhood trauma that drives our protagonist, so THANK YOU Dolemite Is My Name for not flashing back to a hack-ass scene with lil Rudy and his mean daddy shot in desaturated tones. THANK YOU!! All we need and all we get is Rudy stumbling on an old photo of his father and telling him to fuck off.

At the film-within-the-film’s premier, Rudy is told there are overflow crowds who will have to wait hours for a repeat showing. Instead of joining his friends in the theater to bask in his new artistic triumph, Rudy turns back, and chooses to keep the waiting crowd entertained, to give them what they came for.

It’s hard not to see a parallel to Murphy’s career in this final scene, and if you’re a fan, it’ll choke you up. He’s a multi-talented artist, but every time he’s tried to move into a new place, somewhere he can feel fresh inspiration, his fans call him back to the broad comic Eddie Murphy they fell in love with, and he has always accommodated us.

He’s a performer whose generosity has never been appreciated, and whatever bitterness Murphy may have harbored over that, in Dolemite Is My Name he shows that he does give a fuck. He gives a lot of fucks.

#movies #moviereview #ratedfritz #dolemiteismyname #eddiemurphy #oscarbait

Ad Astra: Brad Pitt tries to fill in the blank.

Who you callin’ a space cadet? Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

When you’re floating around in outer space, trying to rein in a movie with a lot of ideas, it helps to have a center of gravity. In Ad Astra, everything revolves around a supernova named Alpha Nojolie (Brad Pitt).

It’s the ‘near future’, and it seems Trump has gotten his Space Force, maybe even paid for by Mexico. But don’t worry, this isn’t a political film. It’s a film in which Space Force commander Pitt is in every single frame, and fortunately, in space no one can hear me scream with delight.

Brad usually prefers goofing around in ensembles, so it’s nice to see him holding the screen all by his lonesome, and mighty lonesome indeed is his Roy McBride. McBride is a crack astronaut with a chill so steady his heartrate never rises above 80 even when he’s in grave danger or ending his marriage to Liv Tyler, who has a habit of making her movie husbands run so far from her they actually leave the planet. Roy’s bona fides make him the only one who can take out a rogue astronaut who’s parked in Neptune’s orbit with a device that could “end life as we know it” on Earth. 

This would have been enough for a solid sci-fi narrative, so by making the rogue astronaut McBride’s long-absent father the film risks turning his journey into a cliché of daddy issues, or reducing the concept to ‘Apocalypse Now in Space’. But the choice ends up providing an opportunity to deliver a bigger message. Note: spoilers ahead!

For starters, the dangers McBride faces on the long trip to Neptune are presented as inevitable, outer space extensions of human folly (we never learn, do we?). The colonized moon has an Appleby’s but doesn’t have national borders, so pirates are constantly attacking the Uber Eats deliveries and no one ever gets their baby-back ribs. Getting into Mars is left to the whims of Natasha Lyonne (you have to show her a tattoo you regret), and the Swedes apparently thought giant, toothy baboons could handle deep space travel and you can guess how that ends up. 

These travails are dispensed with quickly, though, as we’re encouraged to focus more on the journey going on in McBride’s head as he gets closer to his estranged father. He has regular psychiatric check-ins, which involve telling a therapy algoritym about his day. It’s like saying “Alexa, I was thinking about wearing two different colored socks because I saw it on the Thom Brown runway” and her replying “You are not to leave this house”. McBride makes it to Mars, but his Alexa decides he’s become too emotionally involved and takes him off the mission.

This leads us to the only comical interlude in the movie. McBride sneaks onto a ship bound for Neptune, and in an attempt to nab him, the three-member crew bumble 3 Stooges-style into their own deaths. One bangs her head on a window, the second stabs himself with his own knife, and Moe shoots a gun inside a space ship (which everyone knows you can only get away with on the Millennium Falcon) and hits a can of poison gas. It’s as funny as it sounds, especially when McBride pushes all the dead bodies out the window like he’s emptying a dust pan. He finds his dad (Tommy Lee Jones), who turns out to be surprisingly agreeable when Brad tells him he’s gone bonkers, a trick I need to learn for talking to my dad about Trump. 

It feels a bit anti-climactic, but Ad Astra never seemed intended as an action film, despite the pirates and baboons. The deliberate quiet of the movie, and meditative pace, are tailored to Pitt’s acting style, and if you go with it, you’ll be open to the intelligent and emotional coda that he delivers beautifully.

At the end of it all, Ad Astra is right: we Earthlings are indeed all we’ve got. So stop dreaming about Mars, Elon. Wake up and smell the burning Amazon.

#movies #moviereview #adastra #ratedfritz #bradpitt #oscarbait