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

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 22, 2014)

22 08 2014

As I said in my review of “Only Lovers Left Alive,” I have not seen enough of Jim Jarmusch’s work to make a definitive statement as to whether or not he is a great director. But I have seen Jarmusch’s 2005 Cannes prize winner “Broken Flowers,” which is enough to inform me that he has at least one great film to his name.

This dryly humorous pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” is second wave Bill Murray at his best (yes, even better than “Lost in Translation“).  He seems to have reached a status where he seems to reject the need for validation through actively courting our laughs, instead just allowing the comedy arise naturally from the events.  Murrray can then just sit back, maintain a stolidly unruffled facade, and just let the bizarre run-ins of “Broken Flowers” guide his reactions.

In the film, Jarmusch casts him as an aging Don Juan – appropriately named Don Johnston – served with a letter that suggests he fathered a child 19 years prior.  Don would be content to never investigate any further, but his inquisitive neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) insists that he go visit the potential mothers.  So, in a sort of inverted “Mamma Mia,” Don takes off on a series of painfully awkward encounters with former lovers.

The parade of women, including Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton, always entertains.  But Jarmusch isn’t just wheeling out stereotypes or stock characters.  “Broken Flowers” takes each of these women and sets them on an unpredictable but well-imagined path after their split with Don.  It can’t help but raise the question of what exactly his effect on these women was.

To say too much more of what each woman brings to the film is to spoil the fun.  But just dive head first into “Broken Flowers” for off-beat fun throughout and a startling conclusion that packs an unexpected punch.





REVIEW: Before Midnight

22 04 2013

Before MidnightSome movies I just really don’t expect to fully comprehend at the ripe old age of 20.  For example, I don’t really expect to understand the intricacies of love and marriage as portrayed by “This is 40” and “Amour.”

Though both are extremely realistic and vivid, I almost feel like I’m watching a fantasy film because I cannot locate them anywhere within my own personal experiences. The same is true for “Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater’s third entry into what I suppose can be called the “Before” series (comprising of 1995’s “Before Sunset” and 2004’s “Before Sunrise”).  I just kind of have to take the word of others that the film once again captures something true about the place of love in the human condition.  I get a feeling that in twenty years, something about Linklater’s film will resonate more strongly with me.  But for now, I’m left most impacted by the saga’s first entry that explored idealistic notions of love and compatibility.

Though this is the now the third time that they’ve done it, I’m still left reeling by the fact that Linklater, along with co-writers and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, can make long, drawn-out conversations about broad topics into compelling cinema.  It’s a bold and daring conceit to expect an audience to sit for nearly two hours and listen to fictional characters broach subjects that they themselves are often too scared to touch.  The concept seems like one bound to the stage, but it works yet again on screen.

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