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Films I Neglected To Review: Lost With La Mancha
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Dave Made a Maze," "In This Corner of the World," "Patti Cake$" and "The Trip to Spain."

Say what you will about ''Dave Made a Maze''--you certainly cannot say that you have seen this story before. Having pretty much failed to bring any of his grandiose plans or ideas to anything resembling fruition, struggling 30-year-old artist Dave (NIck Thune) decides to spend a weekend when his girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), is away building a cardboard maze inside his living room. When Annie returns, the creation has nearly filled up the house and while she can hear him easily enough, he claims that he cannot find his way out because ''It's bigger on the inside.'' Gathering some friends, Annie enters the maze in order to find Dave and finds that he wasn't kidding. They finally find him somewhere deep inside of the labyrinth but getting out proves to be a far more complicated thing. For starters, Dave does not want to leave until he has completed building it in order to prove that he is capable of finishing something that he has started. Then there is the fact that Dave has included a number of dangerous booby traps throughout the maze ranging from origami birds to an honest-to-goodness minotaur on the prowl.

With its bizarro premise and oddball execution (including sets made out of over 30,000 square feet of cardboard, several interludes involving animation and puppets and a tendency to depict the gory demises of the supporting cast with red yarn and confetti representing the flying blood and guts), ''Dave Made a Maze'' is the kind of film that is practically custom-designed to be a cult film. Under normal circumstances, when a film hits the ''whimsy'' button as frequently as this one does, I find myself rebelling but this time around, I didn't mind the aggressive strain of quirkiness that it presents throughout. The visual style is undeniably appealing--imagine an 80s-style adventure fantasy like ''Raiders of the Lost Ark'' or ''The Goonies'' in the hands of Michel Gondry at his quirkiest and you have a vague idea of what is in store for you--and the actors are likable enough to keep from being completely overshadowed from the weirdness surrounding them. The film does begin to run out of steam a bit towards the end but at a relatively brief 80 minutes, it never quite wears out its welcome before the end credits roll. ''Dave Made a Maze'' may not be for everyone but those who do fit into that category--the kind of person who has been waiting nearly 30 years for the next ''Killer Klowns from Outer Space''--should have a lot of fun watching it.

''In This Corner of the World,'' the new animated feature from Japanese animator Sunao Katabuchi is a film that does so many things so well that it is a shame that the end result is not nearly as good as one wishes it could be. Based on the manga by Fumiyo Kong and set in the 1930s and 1940s, the film tells the story of Suzu (Non), a young girl with a keen imagination and a flair for drawing who grows up in Hiroshima, moves to the nearby town of Kure to marry and struggles to maintain brave face in the face of the hardships and shortages brought on by the war raging in the distance with the rituals of her domestic routine serving as a way of grounding her amidst the growing chaos as things get progressively bleaker. The film is certainly well-made and the animation is beautiful throughout but for some reason, the film never quite managed to engage me in its story or characters in the way that the somewhat similar animated classic ''Grave of the Fireflies'' was able to do. Although watching her master the household routines that will gradually develop a great importance in her life, Suzu herself is just not that interesting of a character and since it is hard to work up any real enthusiasm or interest in her, her story ends up ringing hollow. Animation buffs may find it of interest because it is always lovely to look at but others will likely find it well-meaning but a bit of a drag in the end.

If ''Patti Cake$,'' one of the toasts of this year's Sundance Film Festival (possibly due to oxygen deprivation on the part of viewers), were any more blatantly manipulative, its main character--an overweight white girl from Bayonne, New Jersey dreaming of stardom as a rapper named Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald)--would step off the screen, grab you by the lapels and demand that you laugh, cry cheer or whatever other base emotion it is that it wants you to feel at that moment. Borrowing from movies about quirky underdogs struggling to achieve their dreams ranging from ''Muriel's Wedding'' to ''8 Mile,'' the film follows the supremely self-confident Patti as she tries to make her dreams come true and pursue romance with the hunky-but-mysterious boy of her dreams who lives in the woods (Mamoudou Athie) while facing opposition from people ranging from locals who mockingly call her ''Dumbo'' to a mother (Bridget Everett) who constantly mocks the aspirations of her daughter, whom she still blames for causing her to give up her own long-ago dreams of singing stardom. Directed by debuting filmmaker Geremy Jasper, the whole film just rings hollow and there is not a single authentic-feeling moment to be had--you can practically feel the film pushing buttons as it goes along and after a while, I began to really resent it. To be fair, Macdonald is certainly a presence to be reckoned with but the material she is working with is so hackneyed that she cannot hope to make much of anything of it. (If John Waters ever makes another film, he should definitely look into casting her because I suspect he would know what to do with her offbeat presence.) On the whole, though, ''Patti Cake$'' is a smarmy work that has less edge than your average Disney Channel series and if it does turn out to be the big breakthrough hit that some are predicting, then it will just be one more nail in the coffin for the idea of Sundance being some kind of bold artistic mecca that celebrate the unusual and shuns the familiar.

Then again, something being familiar is not a bad thing provided that it is done well. Take ''The Trip to Spain,'' for example, the latest installment in the largely improvised British comedy franchise collaboration between director Michael Winterbottom and co-stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Like the previous films (''The Trip'' and ''The Trip to Italy''), it follows the basic template of the two comedians, more or less playing themselves, take a road trip through a country that allows them to sample the finest cuisine and see the local sights while pondering their personal and professional lives and engaging in a constant game of one-upmanship along the way. The formula may be the same but it still works here thanks to the inspired byplay between the two stars, who can wring laughs from just about anything (in one of the funniest moments, they engage in dueling Marlon Brando impressions while visiting one of the places where they filmed the long-forgotten ''Christopher Columbus: The Discovery'') and have enough dramatic chops to pull off the more serious moments that occasionally crop up as well. The end result may not be quite as great as the other films in the series--it does begin to drag a bit in the second half before concluding on an odd and not entirely satisfying final note--but it is still far ahead of most of this year’s fairly sorry crop of comedies in terms of the number of genuine laughs on display.

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originally posted: 08/19/17 00:15:20
last updated: 08/19/17 01:06:20
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