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Films I Neglected To Review: Plot Holes
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "John and the Hole," "Vivo" and "Whirlybird."

Based on a short story by Nicholas Giacobone (who also penned the screenplay), "John and the Hole" centers around John (Charlie Shotwell), a 13-year-old kid who lives a coddled life of well-to-do suburban splendor in his huge remote home with his parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and older sister (Tassia Farmiga). After discovering an abandoned underground shelter in the woods, he decides one night to drug the rest of his family and dump them in the shelter for no apparent reason. While they shiver in the shelter, trying to figure out why John is doing this to them, he stays back at the house to do whatever he wants, occasionally offering up increasingly half-baked explanations to visitors as to the whereabouts of the others. The film is presumably meant to be some kind of tortured allegory for the rocky transition from adolescence to adulthood--over the course of his time on his own, John goes from scarfing ice cream and playing video games to learning to drive and cooking risotto--through an approach clearly modeled on the chilly and occasionally surreal sadism demonstrated in the films of such directors as Michael Haneke and Yorgos Lanthimos but what could have been fascinating in their hands merely comes off as both pretentious and grating here. Since there is no insight offered regarding John or why he might have done this (aside from one laughably blatant bit of expository dialogue coming from his mother late in the proceedings), the whole this just becomes a tedious and monotonous exercise that is as empty of meaning as its antihero. Because the film has been made with a certain degree of style--entirely self-conscious and ultimately enervating, of course--and is achingly self-serious throughout, there is the possibility that some may end up regarding this as some kind of masterpiece but let me assure you, those people could not be more wrong if they tried.

Earlier this year, Netflix released "The Mitchells Vs. The Machines," a film that they bought from Sony, who had originally scheduled it for theatrical release but then sold off in the wake of COVID-19 panic, and it proved to be one of the more inspired American animated features in a while--an offbeat story with appeal to both older and younger viewers that was visually stylish, very funny and genuinely heartfelt in equal measure. With "Vivo," another purchase from Sony, they are clearly hoping for lightning to strike twice, especially with addition of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who supplies both the songs and the voice of the central character, but it never quite clicks this time around. Miranda's character is a kinkajou known as Vivo who "performs" (we hear Miranda speaking and singing while the onscreen characters hear only adorable and rhythmically precise squeaks) with his owner, Andres (Juan de Marcos Gonzalez), a street musician who used to be the partner of Marta (Gloria Estefan), before she left for America. Now Marta has invited Andres to come to Miami to perform as part of her farewell concert and he sees it as the opportunity to admit his long-unmentioned love for her via a new love song that he has written for them to perform. Unfortunately, fate intervenes and Vivo finds himself attempting to make the journey himself to deliver the song and honor his friend.

It doesn't take long to realize that "Vivo" is attempting to thread the needle between being a standard kid-aimed animated feature in which an adorable animal and its human pal--in this case, Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), a young relative of Andres who smuggles Vivo into America and then attempts to get him to the show while avoiding her overly protective mother (Zoe Saldana) with a more somber Pixar-style meditation on love, loss and the transcendent power of art. The problem is that while it has an undeniably slick and appealing visual sheen, the rest of the material just simply isnít up to snuff. The one genuinely interesting character in the whole bunch is Andres and he checks out early, leaving the narrative thrust to Vivo and Gaby, neither of whom is quite as adorable as the film thinks them to be. The narrative's mixture of standard cartoon hijinks and more serious stuff leads to a number of fairly awkward tonal shifts. Perhaps most detrimental, the songs that Miranda has come up with here are just not that memorable--many of them feel like reworked leftovers from "In the Heights" and the supposedly transcendent love song that the entire film revolves around and which is the focus of the grand finale turns out to be especially forgettable. "Vivo" is cute and it will probably hold the attention of younger viewers for the duration of its running time but anyone who goes into it expecting more than that is likely to come away slightly disappointed.

"Whirlybird" is a documentary that has enough promising material to fuel maybe three or four potentially fascinating films but never quite manages to pull it all together into a single satisfactory whole. The film finds formerly married TV news pioneers Zoey Tur (who came out as a transgender woman in 2013) and Marika Gerrard looking back at a legacy that saw them essentially revolutionizing how the American media presents news by taking to the air to capture spectacular footage of breaking events--the most famous footage of the Rodney King beating and the OJ Simpson Bronco chase was theirs--even as that success and the attendant pressures help to destroy their family as Bob, as he was known then, became increasingly domineering and abusive towards his loved ones, both at home and at work, since the lines between the two were very blurry indeed. Between a straightforward chronicle of the evolution of news broadcasting, a look at Tur's personal evolution and an examination of the ways, both good and bad, that the American media was forever changed by what Tur and Gerrard did (with their own daughter, news personality Katy Tur, offering some especially trenchant commentary in this regard), there is a lot going on here but first-time director Matt Yoka doesn't seem to have a clear idea of what he wants to say or how he wants to say it and after a while, the whole thing becomes a jumble of raw footage and talking-head reminisces that never manage to straighten out into a cohesive narrative. Still, the archival footage of Tur and Gerrard remains fairly spectacular (the behind-the-scenes stuff of Tur lambasting his co-workers perhaps less so) and those with an interest in mass media and how the 24-hour-news cycle came to dominate everything may find it to be of interest to see it evolve and devolve right before their eyes.

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originally posted: 08/06/21 07:25:41
last updated: 08/06/21 10:34:15
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