I sold the latest James Wan horror to The Boy by reading him part of Joe Bob Briggs’ review (“4 stars! Check it out!”) which emphasized the bat-guano elements of the plot, and he said if he had any particular surprise in the film, it was how it was basically just a solid slasher flick. Which, if you’ve seen the movie, tells you something about how far the bat-guano meter has to be pegged to register around here. And it’s true, if you’ve seen—oh, let’s say for no particular reason at all—Frank Hennenlotter’s 1982 cult classic Basket Case, this may seem tame by comparison.

Or is it a fromage?

It’s not a “rip-off”, it’s an “homage”.

The story here is of a troubled woman, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) who becomes the focus of a crime investigation when her abusive husband—no spoilers here but if seeing a pregnant woman get beat is a deal broken for you, consider the deal broken—turns up dead after an apparent home invasion. Not long after, doctors who all worked on the same remarkable case 30 years earlier start turning up dead, another woman goes missing, and Madison seems to have a psychic link to the murderer.

Sure we’ve seen it before! But have we ever seen it with…uh, wait, yeah, we’ve seen it with just about everything. Wait! Seattle! Have we ever seen it set in Seattle?! (Probably.)

What sets the movie apart is what you might call “the third act ask”. At the beginning of the third act (or the end of the second, depending on how you parse these things), the nature of the killer is revealed and it’s really, really silly. And a little cheat-y, though really only in the ordinary sense of horror cheats. That is, you aren’t being asked to accept anything that isn’t standard for the genre—just a lot all at once. It’s kind of a horse pill of horror. That said, it’s also basically the only possible non-mundane resolution of the issue, so the Boy and I embraced it wholly—and it’s probably why the $40 million dollar movie flopped and has let’s-call-them-“mixed” reviews.

The thing is, this feels like a real movie. We all sorta enjoyed Free Guy, by contrast, but that movie feels like a series of programmed sequences, possibly generated by the world’s dumbest AI, with as little human interaction as possible to screw it up. Wan, on the other hand, can have a black female detective (Michole Brianna White) who feels like a real character, who isn’t perfect, a dumb blonde little actress sister (Maddie Hasson) who flirts with the male detective (George Young) and gets excited when she thinks the police are using psychics but who’s also true-hearted and brave, a cute nerdy CSI gal (Mercedes Colon) who’s also crushing on the detective.

Hollywood magic!

Slap some glasses on this and you got yourself a nerd!

I mean, the thing is, whatever else you might say about it, it felt like the director gave a damn and took some risks.

Apart from the budget, Malignant is like Wan’s other unsuccessful post-Saw projects like Dead Silence and Death Sentence. The former took a crack at the ventriloquist-dummy genre (pioneered by the silent Gabbo, probably most famous now as the source for a setup on “The Simpsons”) and the latter squarely in the vein of post Death Wish revenge horror flicks. As a horror guy, I’ll take any of them over Furious 7 or Aquaman.

The 3rd Act Reveal is followed by a “empty the precinct house” slaughter similar to The Terminator though really reminding me of Maniac Cop 2. That went a little long for my taste. Also, I didn’t super care for the sequel set up, though I don’t suppose there was any other way to do that. I guess we won’t have to worry about seeing a sequel, at least. We could always just watch Basket Case 2, I suppose.

"Like HELL I'm doing that!"

Annabelle Wallis watching “Basket Case 2”.

Free Guy

It was that time of the year again again, as in last year was the first time Knott’s Halloween Haunt was canceled in its history, and this year it was back on (and the crowds were back with a vengeance) and we were looking for movies to see in Buena Park before the show. Usually we go to the CGV, which features Korean films, but they were not doing any shows before 4PM, nor was the AMC. However, the nearby Krikorian was open before noon, even, and we decided on a 2:30PM showing of Malignant. Typically we go for earlier shows and a double-feature, but there weren’t two movies we wanted to see.

The catch being, unfortunately, that the later we start the journey, the more traffic there is, and we actually didn’t get there until after 3PM, leaving us with just enough time to catch this goofy answer to Ready Player One: The Ryan Reynold’s vehicle Free Guy.


Here, have a nice “Free Guy” cast “selfie”.

It was exactly the sort of porridge we expected, though we all liked it more than we expected.

The premise is that Reynolds is Guy, an NPC who works at a bank in a “Grand Theft Auto”-style game. One day he catches a glimpse of Jodie Comer (Millie/MolotovGirl), and something in him changes, and he begins to break his routine in order to interact with her. The in-game conceit is that players wear sunglasses and NPCs do not and through a series of mishaps Guy ends up putting on the glasses and discovering the game elements, like floating first aid kids, wads of cash, weapons or whatever.

Since he’s not acting correctly, everyone assumes he’s a PC who’s found a way to hack the game so he can wear an NPC skin, but Guy knows no other world than the simulation, and begins to level up to impress Millie. Back in meatspace, Millie’s real mission in the game is to uncover that Soonami, helmed by Antwan (Taika Waititi), stole her revolutionary code, that she wrote (or co-wrote?) with an old friend named Keys (Joe Keery) who now works for Soonami.

It’s basically Frankenstein or maybe Short Circuit, and it contains the usual libels against gamers. Millie and Keys’ revolutionary idea was to have code that evolved (I guess like “Spore”) and have players watch the NPCs rather than kill them (I guess like “The Sims”) but Antwan stole it for his GTA game for…reasons…and it’s somehow the reason for the game’s success, even though the entire plot hinges around Guy achieving sentience just as the game is being phased out.



Look, it’s stupid. I mean, really, really stupid.  Not Cryptozoo stupid, but close. But it’s lively and enjoyable and full of fun background gags and Ryan Reynolds is cute and Jodie Comer is cute so shut up and eat your popcorn.

The movie is stupid vague about Keys’ role, except to be the neglected love interest. He basically has the worst sort of role feminists complain about for women: He exists for the girl, who’s the real hero, to discover. They’re presented as a platonic team working on Nobel prize-worthy code, but for no conceivable reason (other than “so the movie can happen”), he’s just a game admin for the guy who ripped him off.

As bad as that is, Antwan is actually worse, embodying the worst stereotypes of Silicon Valley bosses, but who somehow codes the Final (in-game) Boss, and whose only answer to trying to prevent his thievery from being discovered is to take a literal axe to the game servers.

It's cute.

Reynolds and pal (Lil Rel Howery) chat during one of the regularly scheduled bank heists.

So, so dumb. The overarching message is dumb, too: It presumes the notion that enjoying simulated violence reflects a character flaw, and wouldn’t it be better just to, you know, be nice? Last I looked, one of the biggest video games of all time is Minecraft, which destroys the basis of the question before it’s even asked.

This is just one of those movies where you can enjoy it at the moment and only at a few points feel the edges worn down by focus test groups and relentless fear of alienating anyone. I mean, we could, anyway. There are many nice little touches to the film, like a guy in the background who just runs into walls (“that’s me!” I says) and the cute little bit about Millie using an English accent filter (she’s actually English, but does a good American). Millie’s alter ego is still Jodie Comer, though I swear they did some tricks to make her look different, especially at first. I mean, digital tricks like straightening her nose, not just “shapewear” (as The Flower called it) and makeup.

The only thing that made me want to walk out was at the very end, there’s a brief moment where Captain America’s shield makes an appearance (with a semi-cute/semi-nauseating Chris Evans cameo) and then a (completely useless) light saber, and then I realized “Oh, I’m watching a Disney product.” Actually, if I’d known that I wouldn’t have gone.

But mostly, it’s fine. Like most Hollywood product these days, it lacks any kind of reason to care much about it beyond superficial characteristics of the stars, and the glitzy CGI. You’ll see it, you’ll forget it, except for a vaguely beneficent feeling. Unless you start thinking about it, like I just have.

Also "cartoonishly evil and ineffective" is a little close to home these days.

Its not so much that he’s cartoonishly evil, it’s that his cartoonishly evil actions would be cartoonishly ineffective…and this is “real life”, not the game.

Tango Shalom

A man in dire financial straits whose family has big problems to boot determines to save the day by a winning a competition.

Sure we’ve seen it before, about a million times, even when the competition is a dance competition, maybe even when it’s a tango competition. But have we ever seen it when the competitor is a Hasidic rabbi who is forbidden to touch his dance partner (since she is not his wife)? I think not!

She's not bitchy in the movie, for the most part, either.

The lovely Judy Beecher inflicts a Karen haircut on herself, which is a far too extreme form of method acting.

Well, that idea and a kind of geniality is about all Tango Shalom has going for it, which I enjoyed but The Boy felt frustrated about because it’s not better. In fact, we both agreed it felt like someone’s first movie. It’s not, though: The director is Gabriel Bologna, whose parents Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor (character actors who shared an Oscar nom for their adaptation of their own Broadway play, Lovers and Other Strangers) are both featured in the film.

The good here: It’s a broadly comic movie that has a few laughs and treats its characters sympathetically. It also moves along at a—well, I’ll call it an interesting pace, because it’s breakneck in some places and in other places ridiculously slow, and I actually kind of liked the shift in emphasis between from what would normally be considered major plot points to extensive montages of our hero wandering around Crown Heights wrestling with his religious dilemma. I also like the balls-to-the-wall absurdity of solving the dilemma by dancing the tango with a balloon to prevent the two bodies from ever touching.

Just sayin'.

You’re gonna need a bigger ballon.

And, look, as I’ve said, for me that was enough. Also, I find particular enjoyment where people’s moral codes are put to the test (Friendly Persuasion, God’s Neighbors, Machine Gun Preacher, etc.)—even if, as in this case, the solution is clearly a gross technicality and entirely against the spirit of the prohibition. And it’s not that these are the only good aspects to the movie, but by God, they better be enough for you because this movie feels shockingly amateurish at times.

I’m following Len Kabasinski’s latest shoot, Pact of Vengeance, and looking at the stills and re-viewing of his works, and one of the thing that strikes me is how ragged everyone ends up looking. Contrast that to someone like Anna Biller (The Love Witch) where every scene is going to be beautiful and everyone’s going to look beautiful in it. (Biller lugs huge lights around for her shoots and works as her own grip and gaffer, as well as shooting on film. It’s not for nothing she has two feature credits to Len’s 10 to 20.)

So it’s a little shocking to see everyone look so ragged in this film—more toward the Len side than the Anna side, if you know what I mean—and also look stiff and unconvincing a lot of the time. It’s hard to say where the fault lies, though I suspect this was a team effort. A clue may be in the dancing scenes: Our heroic rabbi, Moshe (Jos Laniado, who co-wrote the script) has to dance, obviously, and we’re all familiar with the tricks used in movies to make it look like someone is dancing when they’re not. The two basic ways of handling this well are to do a really good job with the shot transitions (and these days, they’ll CGI in a face, a la Black Swan), or to kind of ham it up and let the audience know we’re all in on the joke. (I’m pretty sure the Naked Gun movies pulled this trick, and I saw Elvira do it live once quite hilariously.) Here it looks like Laniado knows a little footwork, but the camera is trying to convince you he doesn’t because it’s so choppy—and the stiffness in his upper body makes it really, really hard to suspend belief. It’s a very strange effect, overall.

There are a lot of strange effects, like Moshe’s brother (played by his real-life brother, Claudio) seeming very old. The “aesthetic imbalance” between Moshe and his wife (played by Judi Beecher) is not so obvious, especially with the “Karen” haircut they give Beecher, but Claudio seems just a bit too ready for the retirement home to be wooing Marci Fine. Meanwhile, it’s sweet to have your daughter playing your daughter, but Justine Laniado does not look like she could be the offspring of Jos Laniado and Judi Beecher—though she does like she could be the offspring of Jos and the woman who starred in his 2009 short about tango—and does not sound here like she’s ever done a line reading before.

I mean, honestly. How suspended do you want this disbelief?

The blushing newlyweds.

These are little jarring moments. The big jarring moments are what diminished the experience for The Boy. Like, when Moshe meets Viviana Nieves (the lovely and graceful Karina Sminoff, who seems to have done something to put her lips into a permanent “duck” state), she gets a phone call and, in about 30 seconds, ends up being dumped by her fiancee/dance partner, and instantly coming up with the idea to replace him with the dancing rabbi.

Then we get, I dunno, forty minutes of the rabbi struggling with his dilemma. I actually felt like, oh, the whole movie is going to be about him struggling over it, and the dance competition is going to be a kind of afterthought. But the movie goes for almost a full two hours—and to its credit only feels overlong at the end, and during some of these “How am I going to dance the tango, Hashem?” sequences.

So he goes to a rabbi, a priest, an imam and a mystic. No, really. And they’re all as useless as you might imagine. The movie struggles in its feel-good attempt to equate religions because it’s frankly hard to say all religions are the same but also have a value beyond fortune cookie bromides. The rabbi says “On the one hand…but on the other hand…but on the other hand…” and goes on and on like that which is broad enough as a stereotype to qualify as antisemitism. The priest and the imam both say something along the lines of “Find a way to do it without sacrificing your beliefs.” And the Hindu gives him a balloon. The balloon that he uses to dance with.

The balloon is another issue where the lack of camerawork shows up as the point is to show how it keeps him from touching his dance partner but there are tons of shots where it looks like they’re smack up against each other, balloon or no balloon. And through a conspiracy to hide what he’s doing from the rest of his community, Moshe unites his warring family, and isn’t that what community is all about?

The ham-fisted, after-school special message of the movie is “All religions should get along because they all serve God.” I mean, this gets down the final scene where the rabbi, the priest and the mystic are sent a banana by the imam who can’t go to a wedding reception, where the peels represent the various religions and the banana is God. Subtlety is not to be found here, people, though I give the movie credit for showing the Muslims being hostile to Moshe, even though the imam does try to help. On the flip-side, the mystic looks like an absolute creep. I don’t think it’s the actor’s fault, but man, it’s a hard line between “being serene” and “looking zonked out”.

I could find fault with it endlessly, but I didn’t really. I was willing to go along with the absurdity and ham-fistedness for what struck me as reasonable cause. It’s a big ask, though, and the Boy wasn’t into it. Looks like they trying to maneuver the film into a My Big Fat Greek Wedding indie-breakout mold. Worth a shot, I guess, and anything that shows broad, ethnic humor doesn’t have to be mean and can be allowed to exist seems like a worthwhile endeavor to me.

I mean, honestly.

A much bigger balloon.

Night House

I realized, when watching this, that there is a distinct subgenre of horror film where the horror is a metaphor for depression. The Babadook and Lights Out are two other relatively recent popular films where this is true—I mean, overtly true, where the filmmakers have just openly said, “Yes, this is a metaphor for depression.” (Certainly the trope in film goes back to the German expressionists, and we hardly need mention Edgar Allan Poe.) The ending of Lights Out caused some controversy because if you’re going to be very thorough—that is, following through on the metaphor and mapping it back to real world behavior—it’s not exactly a great message to send depressed people. That’s just peanuts compared to this movie’s ending, however.

A funny thing happens, though, when you take the abstract concept of depression and turn it into an external force that can be confronted: It becomes interesting to watch and strangely hopeful. (Cf. when you turn it into an external force that will destroy everything, which becomes boring and nihilistic).

I mean.

Almost every picture of this movie I could find is Rebecca Hall with her mouth open.

We went in completely blind to this movie and I think its little reveals and twists are important to enjoying the film, so I’m going to speak in broad generalities: Basically, the film is about recently widowed Beth (Rebecca Hall), and how the death of her husband Owen (Evan Jongkeit) undermines everything she thought about not just her life, but life in general. She’s a school teacher lives in a lovely custom-built house deep in the woods on a lake. She’s got a friend (Sarah Goldberg) and a friendly neighbor (Vondie Curtis-Hall, whom you’ll all remember as the star of “Cop Rock”) but she’s mostly just pissed off and wants to be alone.

Now, this is an interesting choice. Most movies play up the sympathy angle for young widows but Beth has a got a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, bordering on the unlikable even given her very recent tragic loss. There are two layers two this: The first and most obvious being the death of her husband; the second being that she was actually always a kind of difficult person and it was her husband who kept her more balanced. She is dark and atheistic and nihilistic and, really, one gets the sense that it was her relationship to her husband on which she grounded herself.

And the movie is a process of undermining that entire relationship while also challenging her worldview as she is most decidedly haunted.

Handy, I mean.

Haunted by her handy man husband? Or is she? Or is he?

Director David Bruckner (SouthboundThe Ritual) takes us down a rabbit-hole where we are free—some might say encouraged—to speculate on the base nature of Owen’s secret life. He takes us far enough down to where I was pretty sure there was no getting out. That said, the ending worked for me, though it does not necessarily bear close scrutiny and good lord, you don’t want to go too heavy on the “solutions for depression” metaphor.

This movie walks a fine line in a lot of ways. I’ve mentioned that the lead character is borderline unlikable, but there is a lot of “and then she wakes up” which is often just a lazy, sloppy device for getting out of a mess created by the urge to create funhouse horror, but it’s actually developed here in an interesting and even deep way. There are a few jump scares but not too many and, this is an odd thing, they’re more directed toward Beth than they are toward the audience. That is to say, I don’t think the director was trying to get us to jump out of our seats, but to alarm and disturb the main character, making her more sympathetic and growing the horror from a sense of her fate rather than, e.g., “oh my god that loud noise was so scary ha ha it was just a cat”.

There's a reason, granted.

Hall and Curtis-Hall on a walk through some lovely woods they get all spooked over.

Another line, which it actually treads really well, is the “if the ghost is someone you loved, why is it scary?” line. And the character development, and relationship development is trickled out in a way that you really, really want what the main character wants—for the things that she believed were true to be true.

The acting is solid. This is basically the Rebecca Hall show and she’s up for it. I said to the Boy, “Look, it’s Rebecca Hall!” and he said, “Who [tf] is that?” and I said, “I don’t know, but she’s billed over the title!” We’ve seen Ms. Hall in about a million things over the past 15 years (The Prestige, Frost/NixonThe TownEverything Must Go, and The BFG, just for example) but this is the first time I can recall seeing her headline a film, and it’s a genuinely great performance of a difficult role.

The music is just right, the cinematography has some brilliant moments, and a low-key, satisfying ending was preferred over, say, the house exploding (thank you Steven Spielberg). We were pleasantly surprised, as moviegoing has just been a series of “let’s see something that we won’t absolutely hate” these days (cf. Cryptozoo).

If you’re up for an atmospheric, non-gory haunted house-type story, you could do worse.

Stocking stuffers for the whole family!

The merchandising on this movie is gonna be LIT.



I thought we would go see Demonic, the Neil Blomkamp film, but the reviews are so bad on it that it seemed like a “watch the trainwreck” kind of affair. Then I thought maybe we’d see The Macaluso Sisters, about five Sicilian orphan girls who rent out doves to make their way—but the reviews on that were 100% critically positive (with no real human beings having seen it). And the critic reviews referred to how “haunting” it was more than the reviews for Demonic, and talked a lot about childhood trauma.

Childhood trauma movies are to critics what movies about feet are to Quentin Tarantino. No, I have no idea what that means, either, other than I got a seriously bad vibe off of that kind of critical response. So I says to The Boy I says, “Screw it, let’s see what’s at the Nuart”—our local and relatively famous “cult cinema” theater which is now owned by Landmark.

Cryptozoo: A crudely animated film about a world where an old hippie grandma wants to keep the cryptids of the world (gorgons, unicorns, krakens, whatever) in a Disneyland-type environment that normies can visit and ultimately grow to accept the monsters that live among them.

And this is not the hippie grandma!

The critical reviews of this gush over how “beautiful” it is.

It’s a profoundly dumb film and animated at the level of “South Park” (the ’90s era TV show, not the movie) with a kind of Yellow Submarine sensibility and a color palette reminiscent of Fantastic Planet—but despite this, it was still almost certainly the best choice of the three films.

Directed by Dash Shaw, the creator of My Entire High School Is Sinking Into The Sea, this is the story of Lauren Grey (Lake Bell, In A World), a woman who’s The Best At Hunting Cryptids, on a journey to track down the Baku, a Japanese dream-eating monster which is apparently the most powerful thing ever (it’s not really explained) in competition with a similar (male) hunter working the U.S. Army who has a dream of capturing all the cryptids to use in the war in Vietnam. You see, it’s 1967 and…

The first thing struck me about this movie was how utterly prosaic it was for a movie about cryptids. The next thing that struck me was how perfectly aligned with modern political correctness it was. There are no positive human male characters in the film, except for the black guy who is going to marry the white (Hispanic? Italian?) gorgon, and he’s not only a minor character, he’s clearly gay. (I have no idea who voices him—Dash Shaw, maybe?—as this is the whitest movie you’ll ever see, but we did laugh out loud whenever he spoke. The “black men are not allowed to be masculine or aggressive” is a weird one. This guy’s entire main scene he does lying on his back in bed.)


So stunning. So Brave. So crude and blotchy.

Even among the male cryptids, the only one that qualifies as good is a sasquatch-y type thing that has been domesticated by hippie grandma (Grace Zabriskie, playing something other than a ball-buster for once in her 40 year career). Oh, and there’s a sniveling grade-school age hand-torso thing who’s being beaten by his mom (probably). The other male cryptids are universally destructive, if they’re mentioned at all.

The thing is, I’m sure it’s unconscious. Watching Hollywood product today is like watching a play in medieval Europe. “Gosh, how will they ever get out of this mess? Oh, Jesus saves? What a surprise!” That is, they’re so steeped in dogma at this point, they can’t conceive of any other way to tell a story.

None of this would bug me much, and it might not bug you. You might just enjoy this little morality play where Man tampers in God’s domain—excuse me, Woman tries to Control Nature, and it all goes wrong.

But I’m on this kick of late (say the last 20 years or so, really starting with the Harry Potter movies) where I say, “OK, you’ve changed the rules of the universe to allow for some impossible thing. Now, how does the universe unfold in response?” It’s really noticeable in the fifth movie, I think it is, where some sort of wizard camp-out is broken up by death-eaters. And I say to my self, “Self, every dadblamed one of these consarn wizards is carrying the magical equivalent of a Colt .45, except that it never misses or runs out of bullets. HOW IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING?”

This is really underscored in mainstream comics where someone will say they saw aliens or something and the authorities will respond with “Oh, you saw aliens? Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Like the whole world hasn’t witnessed alien attacks. It’s lazy.

In this case, there’s a kind of sloppy storytelling which makes it seem like everyone’s aware of cryptids because except for the first two characters everyone else in the movie is either aware of cryptids or IS a cryptid. Also the movie starts in 1967, which you have to suss out (that’s a ’60s idiom!) from the two hippie characters encountering their first cryptids, then flashes back to the end of WWII where Lauren encounters the Baku as it eats her nightmares, and nobody believes her. But this, too, is not a big deal.

We had to eat the village in order to save it.

NGL, using a hydra for crowd control sounds pretty boss. I mean, gotta be cheaper and more reliable to just SHOOT them but much less cool.

Where it falls apart is the whole concept of the cryptozoo. Joan (Zabriskie) has a vision getting people to come to accept cryptids and to this end, she’s collected all the cryptids of the world she can find into one place, and with such security that literally a naked hippie chick can bring the whole thing crashing down. It begs the question of how all the creatures were collected in the first place? Lauren? How’d she manage to get the kraken and the giant worm? Since the creatures appear not to be supernatural, what does the kraken eat? And is that a salt-water lake? Who built it?

Who built the giant (but apparently easily scalable) unguarded, unmonitored, electric fence? Given that most of the creatures are apparently capable of (and relatively indifferent to) murdering humans, what was the plan for having families come visit the cryptozoo? Not just murdering, but mind-controlling (will-o-the-wisps) and raping (satyrs and centaurs) as well!

Who changes the tires on the Batmobile?!

Or to quote a line from a classic TV series, “repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. Take it as a fable (that you’ve heard a million times before) and you’ll be fine. For me, well, this is one I’ve heard my whole life and I regard it as a call to apathy, and this presentation rather childish.

I rather enjoyed the crazed cryptid hunter’s fantasies of using cryptids as weapons. Like “Now we can use dragons to burn villages in Vietnam!” A feat previously impossible, I guess. My favorite was “We can use hydras for crowd control!” Well, look, all the hydras are gonna do is eat people, which is admittedly cool, but probably much harder logistically than just shooting them.

The Boy said, “I think I liked it more than you because the hippie guy dies in the first five minutes. Also, monsters are cool.” Fair points.


How did you even GET this to San Francisco?

Pig (2021)

Imagine, if you will, a kind of John Wick story where instead of being an assassin, he was a chef, and instead of his dog being killed, his truffle pig is kidnapped, and instead of shooting everyone who gets in his way, he instead devastates them with psychological and culinary insight. That’s Pig. Also instead of Keanu Reeves, it’s Nic Cage. (Not to be confused with the 2019 Iranian flick Pig, the sadly overlooked satire of the Persian establishment and film industry.)

It means very little at this point, I suppose, but this is the best new American film since the lockdowns.

Continuity's a bitch, though.

Fun fact: Nic Cage does NOT use makeup. When a scene calls for him to be beat up, he has highly trained professionals beat him until the correct effect is achieved.

Now, some people don’t care for The Cage, who gets a whole lot of memeing for his freakout roles, like Mandy and much, much less for his understated and powerful performances like, oh, Matchstick Men, and gets almost no acknowledgement at all for when he has an understated performance where he breaks out the crazy as appropriate, like Joe—or, say, something like Color Out Of Space, where he’s even-handed to the point of  madness. So I suspect he won’t get the accolades he deserves for Pig where his personality is that of a normal (albeit severely depressed) man who has opted for living life as a hermit.

Cage plays the once famous chef, Rob, who acts as a supplier of truffles for Amir (Alex Wolff, From Up On Poppy HillHereditary) in a pretty sweet deal for the latter: According to Truffle Farm, truffles retail from anywhere between about $40/lb. for the cheap ones and over $1,500/lb. for the pricey ones. Judging by Amir’s car and watch, etc., he’s doing okay for himself reselling the truffles, given that his Master Restaurateur/mobster father (Adam Arkin, The Sessions, A Serious Man) has cut him off. OK, he’s not really a mobster (I don’t think) but given the cutthroat food service industry he may as well be.

McNugget Tuesdays!

Foodies Rob and Amir visit the Portland McDonalds.

While Rob’s odyssey through Portland is unusual in a lot of ways and, yes, somewhat reminiscent of John Wick, it’s more of a condensed reality than a surreal one. That is to say, the whole movie takes place over 3-4 days, and you see some strange things but nothing fantastical. About halfway through, Rob makes a speech about Portland’s inevitable demise due to a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and I thought, “Well, is this why some people are gaga about this movie?” Nihilistic speeches don’t really ring my bell, though I had been entertained up to that point, I was worried the movie was going to just slide into pretentiousness.

And some of you might feel that it does, to be fair, but that monologue is the first of several—and the only one that’s nihilistic. It reflects Rob’s depressed state where every other action or speech shows something greater underneath.  The next speech Rob gives on his journey is to a financially successful chef played by David Knell. Knell did most of his film and TV work in the ’80s—he was the lead in Sean Cunningham’s teen-sploitation “classic” Spring Break and had small roles in SplashTotal RecallTurner and Hooch and so on—and his part here consists primarily of listening to Cage strip him bare. It’s a truly great bit of acting, and par for the course in this film where “there are no small roles”. (A lot of credit has to go to David Blackshear, senior editor, and all the editors who make these difficult scenes pop.)


TFW you’re a successful fraud listening to your life being deconstructed.

When Rob comes out of the forest, he connects with Edgar (Darius Prince) who’s doing the Paul Giamatti role. (I briefly wondered if it was Giamatti, but then I just decided I sort of expected him to be there, and then The Boy asked me after: “Hey, was that Paul Giamatti?”) Alex Wolff has to be the sorta “normal” guy to Cage’s forest hermit. Arkin, of course, knocks it out the park with a role you see going one way which then flips to another. There are small, moving roles played by Dalene Young (a prolific writer of teleplays in the ’80s and ’90s) and Gretchen Corbett (who might be known to your grandparents as “the girl who played Jim Rockford’s lawyer”), and every part is done with care and attention to details that elevate the whole.

For example, Young’s character (who run a mortuary/wine cellar?) is masked by shadows, while Cage and Corbett’s interactions are done from a high-angle medium shot. It conveys very well the idea that these are characters from the past, like the shades Ulysses encounters in Hades, though it’s inverted since Rob has more or less consigned himself to a living death.

I couldn’t find a picture of Adam Arkin in “Pig”, so enjoy this picture of Adam Arkin (with Barry Corbin) in “Northern Exposure”, where he plays a misanthropic master chef who lives like a hermit in the woods.

And there’s something else I noticed: The story is about identity. Two things about this shocked me. First of all, it’s actually about something, in a way that’s reflected not just narratively but in the construction of shots and atmosphere. Second of all, it is fairly meticulous in its approach. Amir is the obvious candidate: He wants to be someone who can win approval from his father, and he’s so far gone down this path we almost never get to see the real him. But so is Finway (Knell) and Amir’s Dad (Arkin), and ultimately so is Rob. A third shocking thing, and probably why this movie will ultimately be ignored, is that it’s genuinely about identity and demonstrates the hazards of following fashion to please an unthinking, uncaring mass—a totally off-brand and even radical message for an American film.

But everything in the movie pays off, ultimately. (Well, maybe not the Fight Club thing.) Down to the level of something I noticed in the very opening scenes where Cage is truffle-hunting with his pig—a detail which I think most filmmakers would expect you to overlook—is revealed to be essentially the keystone of the whole thing at the end of the second act.

Damn, son. That’s filmmaking. We liked it a lot, and we liked it even more as time passed.

A kind and steady heart is sure to see you through.

That’ll do, “Pig”.