Films I Neglected To Review: david&david
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/28/20 06:19:32
Please enjoy short reviews of "Centigrade," "DieRy," "Get Duked," "The Personal History of David Copperfield," "Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump" and "You Cannot Kill David Arquette."
As "Centigrade" begins, married couple Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and Matt (Vincent Piazza) wake up inside their car and discover that they cannot get out. No, this isn't one of those symbolic things as was the case with Luis Bunuel's surrealist classics "The Exterminating Angel" and "The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoise--while driving the frozen back roads of Norway on the way to the next stop on author Naomi's book tout, they pulled over to the side of the road to wait out a blizzard and as they both fell asleep, their vehicle was completely encased in snow and ice. As they begin to take stock of their situation--they cannot get a signal on their phones, they have precious little food or water and no toilet facilities--they begin argue about what they should do (she wants to try to break a window and dig to safety while he thinks they should stay put and keep a little warmer) and this leads to the two of them bringing up a number of other grievances that they have evidently been nursing for a while as well as some dark secrets to boot. Oh, and just in case all of this wasnít already fraught with tension, Naomi is extremely pregnant and it is probably not much of a spoiler to reveal that this does end up playing a part in the proceedings as well.
"Centigrade" falls into that cinematic sub-genre of movies in which the filmmakers, director/co-writer Brendan Walsh, in this case, devise a situation in which the characters are trapped in a confined place with little to no chance of rescue and force viewers to squirm along as the situation quickly goes from bad to worse--off the top of my head, I can recall versions in which people have been buried alive, stranded on a ski lift during a snowstorm, trapped in a covered pool, stranded in the middle of the ocean and trapped in an empty and ladder-free Olympic-sized pool along with a rogue crocodile. This one tries to up the ante by insisting at the start and the finish, that it really happened. As is the case with most films that claim such a thing, that does not prove to be the case but long before I was able to check online and confirm my suspicions that the claims were not exactly 100% valid, I already kind of found myself giving up on the whole thing. From a purely cinematic standpoint, the film is not without interest as Walsh figures out how to shoot virtually an entire movie from within a snowbound car without letting it devolve into visual tedium. Unfortunately, that isn't the case with the rest of it--the central characters are not especially interesting at first and grow progressively less so as time passes and panic sets in, the dramatic conflicts that crop up every few minutes always feel like screenplay machinations and it drags badly at certain points. When a film along these lines works--the brilliant "The Shallows" leaps to mind--it can leave viewers excited and exhausted in equal measure. Forgive the crashingly obvious Shalit-level pun, but "Centigrade" only left me feeling cold.
When he wasn't busy writing, rabble-rousing and other activities, the late Norman Mailer pursued dreams of cinematic glory by directing a quartet of movies--the original and partly improvised dramas "Wild 90" (1968), "Beyond the Law" (1968) and "Maidstone" (1970) (which famously ended with co-star Rip Torn attacking him for real on camera with a hammer) and an adaptation of his lurid 1984 neo-noir potboiler "Tough Guys Donít Dance" (1987) that somehow managed to be even more wild and overheated than its source material. With the screenplay that he has written for "DieRy" John Buffalo Mailer, Mailer's youngest son, seems to have set out to create a narrative that would somehow embrace the two extremes that the old man tackled in his journeys behind the camera but has only come up with a deeply irritating work that somehow manages to simultaneously come across as both staggeringly boring and barking mad. Marie (Claudia Maree Mailer) is a popular Instagram model with a cloudy past that she is trying to work through with the aid of her psychiatrist (James Sutorius). One day, her diary is stolen by a crazed fan who begins sending her creepy letters and killing off anyone that they perceive as being a threat to her. As the bodies start stacking up, Marie has to figure out who is drastically reducing her contact list--is it the jerk ex-boyfriend, the creepy photographer, the friend jealous of Marie's online popularity, the hunky comparative religion professor whom she is serving as a TA and who she has the hots for, the flamboyantly gay best pal or. . .could it be someone totally unexpected?
After the early expository scenes that seem designed to evoke the free-form narratives that James Toback used to specialize in back in the day, "DieRy" then lurches into standard slasher film territory as Marie's friends start getting killed off while she continues to get increasingly worrisome messages from the assailant. Then it starts to turn into a version of Orson Welles's "Mr Arkadin" as an Irish private investigator (Ciaran Byrne) begins sniffing around and makes so surprising discoveries about Marieís buried past. If it had just stopped there, it would have just been your average bad movie, a tired and cliched slog that director Jennifer Geller is unable to enliven in any way and which is further hampered by a cast of characters so off-putting that most viewers will be rooting for all of them to come to grisly ends. It doesnít, however, and the final scenes, in which all is sort-of explained, are so batshit crazy that it boggles the mind that no one involved with its production seemed to realize just how ludicrous they were. (Without going into detail, I will say that the denouement feels more like the comments found on a Qanon message board that a proper conclusion to the story at hand.) And yet, as crazy as the final scenes are, they still donít make up for the combination of clunky storytelling, alternately boring and unlikable characters and slovenly filmmaking on display here throughout.
As "Get Duked" opens, three troublemaking teens--boneheaded ringleader Dean (Rian Gordon), would-be rapper DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) and budding pyromaniac Duncan (Lewis Gribben)--are given (not exactly voluntarily) a final chance to make something of themselves by competing for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, a competition that finds them dropped in the middle of the Scottish Highlands with nothing more than a map and working together to complete their journey through the fields on time and without getting lost. Joined by Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a goody-two-shoes who actually volunteered to take part because it would look good on a college application and who proves to be the only one who knows how to read a map, they set off on a hike that they immediately make more difficult for themselves by using a key part of the map to roll a joint. Before long, it becomes apparent that they are being pursued by a group of aristocratic types determined to hunt them down in what eventually develops into a class-inspired riff on the old chestnut "The Most Dangerous Game." Like its central characters, this film from writer/director Ninian Doff is crude, gross, dumb and noisy throughout and proud of it. However, while I cannot honestly say that I laughed out loud throughout while watching it, I did have a smile on my face most of the time and eventually found myself succumbing to its dopey and scuzzy charms. The four young leads play quite nicely off of each other, there are amusing supporting turns from Eddie Izzard as the lead aristocrat and Kate Dickie and Kevin Guthrie as a couple of bumbling cops who somehow manage to generate a potential zombie terrorist onslaught out of absolutely nothing, and the film has a number of extended running gags that actually prove to have fairly hilarious payoffs in the end. "Get Duked" is not a great comedy by any stretch of the imagination--there are a few aimless stretches here and there and the final scenes put an emphasis on visual pyrotechnics that donít amount to much--but it has just enough moments that donít realize that to make it both worth watching and worth keeping an eye on Doff to see what he comes up with next.
Considering the fact that it was directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, the man behind such celebrated works of contemporary n--holds-barred satires as "In the Loop," "Veep" and "The Death of Stalin," one might rightly expect to go into "The Personal History of David Copperfield," an adaptation of the Charles Dickens warhorse, expecting him to rework the themes and ideas of the classic novel into contemporary satirical turns. As it turns out, Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell have, with a few exceptions here and there, more or less stayed true to the bookís basic parameters in recounting the episodic journey of its title character (Dev Patel) as his fortunes rise and fall as he grows up and becomes a man in Victorian-era England--I am going to work under the impression that you are familiar with the particulars of the sprawling plot and that it will not be necessary to delve into it much further. However, those familiar with the story and its numerous screen adaptations (most notably the 1935 classic take from George Cukor) will quickly notice a couple of obvious changes that Iannucci has employed here. For one, perhaps in an effort to cram as much of the material into a two-hour running time as possible, the film tells its story at a breakneck pace that hardly gives viewers a chance to rest between its various interludes, a decision that may prove frustrating to some newcomers trying to keep track of the huge cast of characters and their relationships to each other. The other change comes with Iannucci's defiantly color-blind approach to filling the roles that starts with casting the Indian Patel as David and includes actors covering a wide spectrum of racial and ethnic types for an intentionally anachronistic effect--this might strike some as being overtly politically correct but it works well and besides, this approach should not come as that much of a surprise from a filmmaker whose last movie filled the role of Nikita Khrushchev with Steve Buscemi.
While watching the film, I found myself in the odd position of enjoying it on some basic fundamental level without ever quite getting a handle on why it even existed. Considering the fact that he and Dickens were among the most perceptive social commentators of their respective eras, the idea of their respective viewpoints converging is a tantalizing one that never quite comes off. The sharp wit that he has displayed in his previous efforts has been minimized here and outside of the color-blind casting and the adjustments to the original text, you never get any real sense of why he wanted to tell this particular story at this particular time. At the same time, while it may be an ultimately unnecessary film, it is still a pretty entertaining one, thanks to Iannucci's deft handling of the material and the efforts of a game cast that includes Tilda Swinton as Davidís oddball great-aunt Betsey Trotwood, Hugh Laurie as the permanently distracted Mr. Dick, Morfyd Clark as David's beloved Dora, Gwendoline Christie as the hateful Miss Murdstone and Ben Wishaw as the increasingly slimy status climber Uriah Heep. (The only performance that doesnít click is the often overbearing one from Iannucci regular Peter Capaldi as the roguish Mr. Micawber, though it is impossible to imagine anyone equalling W.C. Fields's performance in that part in the 1935 version.) No one will ever consider "The Personal History of David Copperfield" to be the definitive screen version of the book and there is always the sense that Iannucci is merely treading water while waiting for his next great idea to develop. That said, it does contain enough amusing moments and good performances to make it worth a look.
In the months leading up to the 2016 election, a group of mental health professionals published "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," in which they presented psychological evaluations of the one-time co-star of "Ghosts Can't Do It" that made the claim that he was psychologically unfit to serve in the capacity of President of the United States. Their efforts received some criticism for publicly evaluating a person who was not actually a patient of any of the participants and in the end, it didn't make much of a difference anyway. Now, almost exactly four years later, in the middle of Trumpís reelection bid, the same group, now calling itself Duty to Warn, has returned as the force behind "Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump," a documentary that comes to the same conclusion as the book but which bases its theories almost entirely on Trump's actions since assuming office. The film does not relegate itself entirely to the theorizing of the psychologists--there are also interviews with the likes of intelligence expert Malcolm Nance, George Conway and onetime communications director Anthony Scaramucci that bring in more personal perspectives while still coming to the same conclusions. Director Dan Partland presents the material in a simple and straightforward manner with any gimmicks to speak of but while the end result is certainly watchable, it is not really doing anything other than preaching to the converted for 90 minutes. If you are looking for a distillation of all the dumb, venal and horrible things that Trump has inflicted on this country in the last 3 1/2 years, "Unfit" certainly does the job but it doesnít quite manage to bring anything new to the picture that might have made it more compelling in the end.
By the year 2000, David Arquette was an actor on the rise--he had a familiar last name, he was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood issue alongside the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and was the co-star of the hugely popular "Scream" movies. Then it all fell apart for reasons that Arquette attributes to a publicity gimmick devised to tie into the long-forgotten wrestling comedy "Ready to Rumble" that involved him actually winning the WCW World Championship title--although he only reigned for 12 days, that was long enough to make him a pariah among wrestling fans and to cause Hollywood casting agents to write him off as a goofball. Nearly two decades later and now with a wife, three kids and an uneven acting career, Arquette makes the inexplicable decision to reenter the wrestling world, taking it vey seriously this time around, and his bizarre quest for redemption is at the heart of David Darg and Price James's very odd documentary "You Cannot Kill David Arquette." Considering that professional wrestling has always intertwined the worlds of fact and fiction--the storylines may often be faked but the injuries incurred in the ring in the process of giving the audience what they want are often gruesomely real--viewers who are not well-versed in the wrestling world and who are not Arquette superfine may find themselves wondering if the entire thing is just a goofy hoax along the lines of that Joaquin Phoenix faux-documentary from a few years ago. Even I found myself unsure about whether the whole thing was just some postmodernist joke--kind of a reverse Andy Kaufman--though my doubts about its veracity did go away about the time Arquette is rushed to the hospital after being accidentally stabbed in the neck during a bout. The thing that continued to elude me, however, was the question of why anyone thought that this was a good idea and that it needed to be chronicled. Arquette is evidently trying to create some kind of redemption narrative for himself but since his fall from grace was not exactly that tremendous or world-shaking (although he tries to make it seem as if he has become a hot potato in Hollywood, he has been steadily work in the years since his initial wrestling fixation, just in less prominent films aside from the occasional entry in the "Scream" saga), you get the sense throughout that he is just another guy going through a mid-life crisis, albeit one still famous enough to get a camera crew to chronicle it all. For their part, Darg and Price never push Arquette to explain why he is doing what he is doing in anything other than empty platitudes--they are content to simply keep the cameras rolling while their star debases himself over and over again. At the end of "You Cannot Kill David Arquette," you get the sense that he has finally found some kind of peace within himself and for that, I am happy for him. I'm just saying that, based on the evidence, that journey wasnít quite interesting enough to transform into a feature film.