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Films I Neglected To Review: More More More!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn," "Free Solo," "The Guilty" and "Studio 54."

As a result of this gig, I have seen more than my fair share of terrible and painfully unfunny comedies over the years but at least in most of those cases, I could at least discern what was supposed to be funny, at least in theory, even if I didn’t share in the laughs--hell, even the infamous ''Freddy Got Fingered'' was built upon a vaguely recognizable comedic premise that one could easily grasp. By comparison, ''An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn'' is not just one of the least funny films that I have ever seen that considers itself to be a comedy, it is one where I am at a total loss as to explain how any of it ever could have possibly been funny in the first place. Set in one of those exaggerated white trash hellholes favored by filmmakers seeking to come across as ironic without actually doing any heavy lifting, the film centers on Lulu (Aubrey Plaza), a frustrated woman stuck in a dour marriage to a creepy coffee shop manager (Emilie Hirsch) who, in the opening scene, fires her in a cost-cutting move. As more money is needed, the husband robs the convenience store run by his brother-in-law, who responds by hiring a dour hit man (Jermain Clement) to get it back. For reasons that defy logic, Lulu runs off with the hitman and the money to hole up at a nearby hotel that is scheduled to feature a performance---no, an ''experience'--by Beverly Luff Linn (Craig Robinson), an entertainer of mysterious sorts from Scotland who is so emotionally constipated that he cannot speak when he is off-stage and who seems to have had some kind of previous relationship with Lulu.

With its alternately garish and deader-than-deadpan stylings, ''An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn'' plays like a demented mashup of early John Waters, David Lynch and the anti-comic comedic stylings of people like Chris Elliott and the late Andy Kaufman. The thing is, those people were actually talented and funny and knew how to push things in just the right way so that audiences would be inspired to laugh along, assuming that they were riding on the same wavelength. By comparison, director/co-writer Jim Hosking, whose previous effort was the notorious (and still unseen by me) would-be cult film ''The Greasy Strangler,'' appears to have not even the slightest idea of how to stage or execute a comedy and the entire enterprise is quickly reduced to a seemingly unending and visually hideous series of scenes in which he asks his cast to wildly overact while saying or doing bizarre and grotesque things until the sequence grinds to a merciful halt. Just to prove how staggeringly incompetent of a filmmaker Hosting truly is, the only member of his cast that he has deliver a reasonably down-to-earth performance is Plaza, the one who might have actually scored some laughs if she had been allowed to play things as totally off-the-wall as well. (By comparison, Hirsch is so grotesquely unfunny in his approach that he doesn’t inspire laughs as much as mid-level feelings of nauseas.) The only thing possibly shocking about ''An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn'' is that there is the possibility--remote as it might be--that there is someone out there who might find this puerile waste of time and talent (happily, virtually no effort seems to have gone into it) to actually be funny. Here is hoping that none of us find ourselves sitting next to that person on a long bus ride anytime soon.

Unless you are undertaken a dangerous mission to infiltrate a seemingly impregnable fortress in order to stop a mad super villain from taking over/destroying the world, I have never quite understood the point to mountain climbing, a pursuit in which participants willingly and inexplicably put themselves into a situation where there is an excellent chance that they will plummet to their deaths as the result of a single slip or misstep. In other words, I am not exactly the target audience for ''Free Solo,'' a documentary by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, that documents celebrated rock climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to scale Yosemite's 3,000 foot high El Capitan Wall, a feat that would be dangerous enough under normal circumstances but which is even more so in this case as Honnold is a free soloist, a climber who performs his ascents without the use of ropes or any form of safety gear--even the slightest error on his part could mean instant death. As he makes his preparations for his climb, Honnold tells the story of how he became interested in such an arcane and dangerous profession and what compels him to continue with it. As the time grows closer, two unexpected elements force him out of his normally solitary existence--which has served him as an asset in free soloing--and threaten the climb—the presence of the film crew that is following him and which is planning to capture his ascent (for their part, the crew is a bit uneasy over the possibility that they might be capturing his death instead) and the arrival of Sanni McCandless, a new girlfriend who plainly loves him and understands what he is doing but cannot disguise her fears about what could happen.

The movie never quite sold me on the alleged joys of free soloing or convinced me that Honnold was anything other than an emotionally stunted oddball with an inexplicable death wish, a sense that grows exponentially during the film’s long and fairly flabby middle section. However, once Honnold finally begins his long-awaited ascent of El Capitan, ''Free Solo'' comes alive with breathtaking footage that looks jaw-dropping (not to mention gorge-inducing if you have even the slightest thing about heights) even on a television screen and which will no doubt come across as overwhelming when seen in its proper format on the big screen. Even though the result is not really in doubt for a second, watching him make his moves about the mountain is far more thrilling that even the most over-amped action spectacle imaginable. Thanks to these sequences, which pretty much had me squirming in my seat I know that I can easily recommend ''Free Solo'' even as I am equally certain that I don’t think that I could ever bear to see it again in this lifetime.

I have no doubt that most of the reviews of the new Danish thriller ''The Guilty'' will describe it as being Hitchcockian but in this case, debuting writer-director Gustav Moller has more than earned that particular designation. Having made some ugly mistake in the course of his regular duties, cop Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is reassigned to radio dispatch while waiting for a hearing on his case, a job that is one not particularly suited for his occasionally hot temper. One day, near the end of his shift, he gets a call from a woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) who claims to be calling from a car driven by the husband who has just kidnapped her for unknown reasons. Sensing a way to rehabilitate himself, Holm eschews going through the normal procedural channels and tries to single-handedly track down and orchestrate the rescue of both the woman and her young daughter from within the confines of the call center. Like Holm, the film never leaves the building and while the idea of watching a guy talking on the phone for 90 minutes may not sound that gripping, Moller is able to generate a surprising amount of tension and suspense out of the premise, partly because of the ingenious narrative twists and turns that he has in store and partly because of his ability to properly conjure up what is going on in the outside world purely through what we are able to overhear on the phone. Yes, ''The Guilty'' is a bit of a gimmick film but proves to be a sensationally effective one thanks to the combination of Moller’s gifts as a filmmaker (the ending is especially impressive) and the wonderful performance by Cedergren as the antihero at the center--the whole narrative pretty much rests solely on his shoulders and his understated and convincing performance helps to sell a story that might have come across as silly in the hands of another, lesser actor.

The heyday of the New York nightclub Studio 54 was relatively brief in the grand scheme of things--its original incarnation only lasted for about 33 months before it went out in a blaze of drugs, taxes and anti-disco sentiment--but the name alone continues to have a cultural resonance decades later and it remains, with the possible exception of the Stork Club, America’s most famous nightclub. That said, those who were not alive or of clubbing age during the late 1970s may wonder what exactly it was about that particular place that made it, for one brief moment in time, the epicenter of popular culture where celebrities danced the night away (among other things) alongside regular people who were deemed worthy of entrance. The new documentary ''Studio 54'' attempts to do just that and even though it is a little too shallow and glib at times (which, considering the subject, somehow makes sense), it does a pretty good job of encapsulating the story of what happened when college friends Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager decided to open a big and bold nightclub in a New York City space that had previously served as studio space for CBS. With a flair for publicity, front man Rubell and the more behind-the-scenes Schrager attracted a regular A-List crowd that included the likes of Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli and Truman Capote. (In one fascinating archival clip, we see Rubell being interviewed by Jane Pauley when a 19-year-old Michael Jackson joins in to sing his praises for the club.) It couldn't last forever, of course, and in December, 1978, the IRS, suspecting Rubell and Schrager of tax evasion, raided the club and turned up bags of undeclared money and drugs, kicking off a downward spiral that led to the downfall of the club (the simultaneous demise of disco didn’t help either) and landed the two in prison.

Director Matt Tyrnauer recounts the story of the rise and fall of the club and its co-owners through a combination of archival materials, interviews with some of the regulars recounting the wild times they had and, most significantly, with Schrager himself giving us a look at it all from the inside. (Rubell died of complications from AIDS in 1989 but is seen and heard frequently via old footage and a couple of recordings of interviews.) The old photos and footage are fascinating to look at, though when one looks at them in the cold light of day, they hardly manage to convey the presumed excitement of actually being there. The interviews with Schrager, who would reinvent himself as the developer of a string of highly successful boutique hotels, is far more interesting, especially later on as the story begins to take its darker turn. ''Studio 54'' is not a great documentary by any stretch of the imagination--those looking for an excellent film that conveys the club culture of that period in a smart and intelligent manner are advised to check out Whit Stillman's great ''The Last Days of Disco,'' which was inspired in part by the Studio 54 story--but it is a reasonably entertaining experience and, unlike most late nights at Studio 54, you probably won’t hate yourself the morning after.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4148
originally posted: 10/20/18 02:05:08
last updated: 10/20/18 02:19:56
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