REVIEW: Wiener-Dog

24 06 2016

Wiener-DogSundance Film Festival

The dachshund seems to reside among the most loved dog brands these days, no doubt due in part to how social media-friendly these pint-sized canines are. I’ve fielded a number of inquiries from friends in the past few months about the film “Wiener-Dog,” which proudly touts its four-legged star. And to each of them, I have issued a profound warning to stay away.

Writer/director Todd Solondz plays on those shared cultural feelings of fondness for wiener-dogs, and the marketing/advertising echoes such associations. But Amazon Studios and IFC just want to harness these to sell you tickets or get you to rent the movie. Solondz wields this power with a much more perverse intent. He wants to sell you a nihilistic vision of a cruel world with no sympathy or concern for even a cute dog. The wiener-dog is the vessel for drawing in the unsuspecting, the naive and the hopeful.

Most of this does not become apparent until the last of the film’s four parts (no spoilers, but stay away if animal cruelty bothers you.) Prior, “Wiener-Dog” finds some fun in its blunt, cynical assessment of life. Each section of the film, connected only by the presence of traveling dachshund Doodie, serves as a commentary on a different season of life: youth, adulthood, middle-age and, ultimately, senility. The first half, featuring lovably quirky turns from actors like Greta Gerwig and Julie Delpy, expresses Solondz’s worldview without resorting to outlandish measures.

But once the film passes its musical-filled intermission, which feels gratuitous for a 90 minute movie, things take a turn for the worse. Danny DeVito’s section about a film professor who all but gives up on life gets unbearably mopey. And when Ellen Burstyn’s Nana arrives on screen, practically in the grave, Solondz veers into a turn that feels downright mean to the audience since it is so unearned

I have my views on big existential dilemmas, and so does Todd Solondz. We can agree to disagree, as I frequently do with filmmakers, and still enjoy the work in question. I find it very hard to table my differences, however, when it comes to “Wiener-Dog.” Solondz so clearly illuminates his thoughts on the absurdity of being when he executes a shockingly beautiful pan over a heap of diarrhea or crafts a droll, deadpan line. His parting gestures abandon the nuance of his artistry in favor of shocks and screams, collapsing the film under the weight of its own pessimism. C / 2stars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 31, 2010)

31 12 2010

I don’t quite know how to end a year in movie reviewing … that’s a little awkward.

But want to know something more awkward?  “Man on the Moon,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  (And to close on a good note, F.I.L.M. stands for First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie.)  Perhaps awkward isn’t the right word for it, though you’ll undoubtedly feel the strange sentiment many times while watching the movie.  It’s intelligently quirky and undeniably of the oddball variety, which makes it one of the most wonderful off-color movies I’ve ever seen.

The nomadic comedian Jim Carrey has never been so at home than here as Andy Kaufman, the comedian of the ’70s and ’80s who became an incredible enigma for audiences nationwide.  His unique style was meant to be, as he called it, an “experience” for the audience meant to drum up laughs, affection, and hate.  This roller-coaster ride of emotions wasn’t exactly something that sold, and his refusal to budge from his principles made it hard for him to get many jobs on TV.

The movie, directed by two-time Academy Award-winner Milos Forman, does more than just chronicle the bizarre career of Kaufman; it attempts to resurrect the man himself.  “Man on the Moon” gives us largely the same experience that Kaufman wanted his audiences to have.  We are meant to raise an eyebrow when he stands motionless for a minute on the first episode of “Saturday Night Live” or when he reads the entire novel “The Great Gatsby” instead of doing his routine for a rowdy college crowd.  We question his alter ego, the crude and crass Tony Clifton, a fat bar-singer parody.  And then we don’t quite know what to make of a lot of it, but his refusal to conform is often hilarious and always entertaining.

As movies like “Little Fockers” tear up the box office charts but inspire groans from the audience, this may be the perfect time to watch “Man on the Moon.”  Andy Kaufman, who dared to be different, found humor in silence – and his comedy is a wacky experience that no one has ever repeated since.

REVIEW: When In Rome

29 08 2010

I was preparing for the worst when I popped “When In Rome” into my DVD player.  It’s a romantic comedy, so that means a marriage to formula and the same old gimmicks for an easy laugh.  But the thing about low standards is that it becomes a whole lot easier for a movie to really surprise you.  Such was the case here.

Shockingly enough, it’s not half bad.  I’m sure you are shaking your heads, saying it’s not possible for a romantic comedy that looked pretty uninspired from the previews to actually be any good.  And I’m not saying that this a new classic for the genre or that it has successfully introduced a new formula into the romantic comedy lexicon.  It’s nothing highly original or innovative.  All I’m saying is that something about “When In Rome” … works.

At the start of the movie, I was preparing to hate Kristen Bell’s character Beth after she can’t stop rambling to herself about a bad experience in an Applebee’s.  It’s even worse because she’s a high-brow art curator and Guggenheim obsessive, something regular Applebee’s customers usually aren’t too fond of.  Yet at her sister’s wedding in Italy, she gets a little too much champagne in her and makes an impulsive decision, yanking coins out of a fountain of love.

All of a sudden, that paradoxical facade is wiped away, and Beth is someone we can actually like as she is thrown into a crazy situation.  She had never been the kind to actively seek love, but by taking the coins, the men who threw them come looking to her for love.  Four men are over-the-moon smitten for her: a sausage mogul (Abe Froman, anyone?) played by Danny DeVito, an Italian painter played by Will Arnett, a model in love with himself as much as Beth played by Dax Shepard, and a loopy magician played by Jon Heder.

And then there’s a wild card thrown into the mix: the best man at her sister’s wedding, Josh Duhamel’s charming Nick, seems to be quite interested in Beth after they had a connection at the reception.  Her concern at first is that these four men will ruin her chance with Nick, but she soon realizes that he could just easily be one of her head-over-heels lovers.  It’s a bit of a romantic mystery, enough to keep a little bit of suspense throughout the fun and funny “When In Rome.”  B /