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Films I Neglected To Review: Eight Arms To Hold You (Among Other Things)
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of the Chloe Grace Moretz vehicle "Hick," the Morgan Spulock documentary "Mansome," the restored version of the 1981 cult classic "Possession" and the estrogen-heavy "What to Expect When You're Expecting." Granted, you may not enjoy the movies that much but I hope you at least enjoy the reviews.

At the mere age of 15, Chloe Grace Moretz has rapidly emerged as one of the most promising actresses around thanks to her attention-getting performances in films like "Kick-Ass," "Hugo" and the current "Dark Shadows." Alas, even someone her age can have a couple of cinematic skeletons in the closet and one of those has emerged in the form of "Hick," a vaguely depraved and often dull coming-of-ager that will probably do for her what the similarly sordid "Hounddog" did for Dakota Fanning--practically nothing. Based on the acclaimed debut novel (so says the press kit) by Andrea Portes, the film stars Moretz as Luli, a thirteen-year-old girl who, as the story opens, has had enough of her drunken parents (Juliette Lewis and Anson Mount) and decides to hit the road to Las Vegas with a gun in her pocket and an outfit that makes her look older than she is. It is the latter that attracts the attentions of Eddie (Eddie Redmayne) but after riding with him for a while, he gets a little too creepy and she smartly flees. Soon after, she is taken under the shady wing of Glenda (Blake Lively), a sassy drifter with an apparent taste for the early work of Gus van Sant, and things seem okay for a while until Eddie turns up again and everything quickly goes to pot and worse.

There are many problems with this film but one of the key ones is that it is essentially a coming-of-age movie in which no one really seems to come of age at any given point. Oh sure, a lot of stuff happens--most of it involving some combination of Luli's burgeoning sexuality and creepy guys who want to take advantage of it--but the incidents occur in such a vague and random manner and with so little dramatic impact that the scenes could be rearranged and reedited without making any real difference. Other than that, director Derick Martini lets the material plod along and no amount of sordid storytelling or incongruous touches (such as a late-inning cameo from Alec Baldwin or a bathroom assault set to the tune of Bob Dylan's "Sooner or Later (One of Us Must Know")) are able to lend any juice to the proceedings. Not unexpectedly, the best and only notable thing about "Hick" is the performance from Moretz, who perfectly captures that dangerous point of adolescence when the line between girlhood and womanhood suddenly evaporates and one is forced to navigate the emotional minefield that suddenly surrounds them. This is a good performance in a very bad movie and while Moretz acquits herself as well as can be expected under the circumstances, my guess is that when the Lifetime Acheivement tributes begin pouring in a few years from now, this film will not have much of a place of prominence in the clip reel.

The good news about "Mansome," the latest documentary from the increasingly tiresome and increasingly prolific cinematic muckraker Morgan Spurlock, is that after the first 20 minutes or so, Spurlock's presence can hardly be detected in front of the camera for the duration. The bad news is that his presence, or anyone else's, can hardly be detected behind the camera either in this mess of a movie that purports to explore the concept of contemporary male grooming and what it says about society as a whole. Well, at least I think that may have been Spurlock's initial intention but on the basis of what he has turned in here, he apparently gave up on that concept early on and instead decided to slap together a bunch of haphazardly-arranged footage combining "Real People"-like segments involving the likes of a wigmaker, a competitive beard-grower and the testing of a product entitled "Fresh Balls" (no explanation needed) fused together with commentary from the likes of Judd Apatow, Adam Corolla, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis and, in a running bit that follows them undergoing a full spa treatment, executive producers Jason Bateman and Will Arnett. There are tiny bits of insight scattered here and there and a very funny talk from John Waters in which he discusses the circumstances under which he would shave off his trademark pencil-thin mustache. However, as with his other films, Spurlock seems more interested in taking cheap shots and making glib observations than in delving beneath the well-manicured surfaces of his stories in order to get at something deeper. And even though he is only on-screen for a short time during the opening segment about shaving, he is so smugly obnoxious as he contemplates getting rid of what he repeatedly describes as his "iconic" mustache that most viewers will be seized with an overwhelming desire to grab a straight razor and go all "Sweeney Todd" on him. Speaking of, while there is no reason to spend actual money to see "Mansome" (which frankly looks like a busted TV pilot being sent to theaters on the redoubtable strength of Spurlock's name) under any circumstance, it must be noted that if the sight of people shaving, no matter what the context, is enough to inspire waves of nausea, you should avoid this film at all costs because if you don't, your response to it may uncannily resemble Spurlock's infamous response to the Big Mac in "Super Size Me."

When it originally appeared in America in 1981--in a severely truncated form that was briefly tossed into grindhouses--Andrzej Zulawski's "Possession" was rejected by gorehounds for being too weird and arty and ignored by everyone else on the assumption that it was just another icky genre item. Now restored to its full 127-minute length, "Possession" can finally be recognized for what it was supposed to be in the first place--a jaw-dropping blend of deeply personal drama that begins at an emotional fever pitch and only goes further out from there mixed in with the kind of symbolic/gruesome horror imagery that might have even left the likes of David Cronenberg taken aback. As the film opens, a semi-shady businessman (Sam Neill) returns home to West Berlin to learn that his wife (Isabelle Adjani) wants a divorce. He eventually agrees but soon becomes obsessed with discovering the lover that he is sure she has taken. He eventually tracks her down to a seedy flat and without giving away too much, let it be said that as crazy as the proceedings have been up to this point, to describe what happens next as being strange, bizarre and outré would be the understatement of multiple centuries.

Even in countries that were allowed to see "Possession" in its proper form during its original release, Zulawski's fusing of intense psychodrama, metaphysical contemplations and gruesome horror imagery sharply divided audiences and seemed to be decades ahead of its time. Three decades down the road, it still seems ahead of its time but to see it now is to understand how his mixture of the profound and the profane would go on to influence the likes of any number of future filmmakers, especially the likes of Lars von Trier. Zulawski handles the dramatic elements brilliantly--although his borderline-hysterical approach may prove to be too much for some, he does a much better job of capturing the rage, confusion and anguish that often accompanies a particularly brutal break-up better than more straightforward takes on the subject that you or I could name--and finds a genuine sense of menace and dread in the more genre-oriented second half that is equally arresting (including a final scene that is among the most hopeless, despairing and terrifying that I have ever seen in any film). Throw in astonishing performances from Adjani and Neill that pretty much need to be seen to be believed (especially the unbelievably harrowing extended sequence in which Adjani violently miscarries in a subway tunnel) and the end result is a masterwork that is long-overdue for a proper appraisal. Besides, whether you love it or hate it, "Possession" is a film that, once seen, will not be forgotten for a very long time--whether that turns out to be a good or bad thing depends entirely on you.

It would stand to reason that if you are trying to make a movie out of a well-known property that doesn't actually possess a story to work from, the logical and sensible thing would be to try to dream up one solid narrative thread that would encompass the key points that attracted you to the material in the first place--if nothing else, you could then mine the book for additional stories if the first one was a hit. In the case of "What to Expect When You're Expecting," the big-screen version of the popular pregnancy guide, the filmmakers have chosen the opposite track by presenting viewers with a multiple-narrative structure involving adoption, unexpected pregnancies, father-son strife, breastfeeding advocacy, televised dance contests, emergency C-section, job loss, gourmet food trucks and a Greek chorus of fathers offering their side of the story in regards to child-rearing and an overstuffed cast featuring the likes of Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Brooklyn Decker, Anna Kendrick, Chace Crawford, half the supporting cast of "Bridesmaids" and one of the lesser Black-Eyed Peas all jockeying for position throughout. The end result is a final product that could just as easily be dubbed "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Uterus" (with the finale taking place--EDITOR'S NOTE: For reasons of taste and dignity, an insensitive riff on the equivalent of the "big W" has been forcibly removed and destroyed for the good of us all.)

Perhaps inevitably, the end result is an utter mess--instead of figuring out a way to wrangle all the different characters and storylines in which everything pulls together into a cohesive whole along the lines of "Magnolia" or "Short Cuts," director Kirk Jones seems to have just put most the scenes together randomly and with nothing governing his decisions other than to ensure that all of his stars (whose narratives have only the vaguest and often forced connections with each other) get an equal amount of screen time. As a result, there is absolutely no proper narrative flow, some of the moves from drama to comedy are ill-advised at best (call me a cynic but after having put one character through a sad miscarriage, you cannot then shift over to goofy jokes about circumcision and Mickey Rourke unless you possess an exceptionally deft touch and that can not be said about anyone involved with this project) and the end result isn't so much "Intolerance" as it is intolerable. Throw in a group of shrill and generally unlikable performances (with Dennis Quaid's over-acting and Brooklyn Decker's non-acting seemingly competing to see who can come off worse) and an ugly visual style that oftentimes suggests a bad TV movie from the mid-80's and the end result that even the most conservative audience members might abort before it finally comes to term.

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originally posted: 05/19/12 04:02:23
last updated: 05/19/12 06:21:02
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