FilmWatch Weekly: ‘Official Competition’, ‘Poser’, ‘Mad God’ and ‘Mr. Malcom’s List’
At some point, everyone wondered what it was like to be someone else. Films have explored this idea in all sorts of ways, from terrible friday at single white woman at Character. A pair of new films, one comedic and one scary, tackle the allure and danger of taking on an identity that isn’t your own.
Official competition brings together two of Spain’s biggest stars, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, for the first time on screen. (Though they’re both among Pedro Almodóvar’s favorite actors, they only shared a brief scene in that director’s films.) And while their longtime pairing isn’t a masterpiece artwork, it’s a fun satire of showbiz with a slow-burning pace and a nasty little twist.
Aging billionaire Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) wants to leave a legacy. “A bridge, perhaps.” Instead, he chooses to become a film producer, hiring acclaimed and eccentric director Lola Cuevas (Cruz, sporting a wig with explosive curls) to adapt a novel about the rivalry of two brothers.
She plays Félix (Banderas), a movie star addicted to fame, and Iván (Argentine veteran actor Oscar Martínez), an important comedian. As rehearsals begin, the clash of egos between the pair is only encouraged by Lola’s unorthodox methods, which include dangling a giant boulder above them as they run lines and to destroy their acting awards in front of them.
Besides the occasional intrusions by Suárez and the girl he insists on playing in the film, Official competition is essentially a three-player game for most of its running time. It’s hard to fathom how scathing this tries to be, because the figures of the incredibly artistic author, the vainglorious matinee idol, and the smug (but secretly insecure) actor are quite fruitful. easy to grasp. And directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat are more interested in gentle parody than scathing criticism, though they include a number of tiny, wordless interludes (Lola happily practicing the Floss in her bedroom; Félix using an abdominal stimulator while a bored, topless woman watches on) which punctures the funky vibe.
That is, until the final act, which takes a decidedly dark turn that I won’t spoil here but involves attempted impersonation. As I promised. (Opens Friday, July 1 at Cinema 21.)
A MORE DIRECT AND DISTURBING interpretation of this whole concept comes into play Setterthe feature debut from Columbus, Ohio directors Noah Dixon and Ori Segev. Setter follows a shy young woman named Lennon (newcomer Sylvie Mix) who is fascinated by Columbus’ seemingly thriving underground music scene, but is stuck in a dead-end dishwasher job. To please herself, she begins to present herself in clubs as a podcaster and interviews artists. If nothing else, it will be a time capsule of actual Columbus bands, including one that identifies its style as “queer death metal” and another that rejects the whole idea of a “band.”
Soon, Lennon meets the convincing figure of Bobbi Kitten (playing herself), one half of a “witch rock” duo calling themselves Damn the Witch Siren. The other half is an anonymous drummer who constantly sports a latex wolf mask. Dixon and Segev said Damn the Witch Siren was their initial inspiration for the film, and it’s easy to see why. Kitten vibrates with riot energy and puts on quite a show on stage, which makes up for his occasional awkwardness by delivering dialogue.
Lennon, quite likely, becomes obsessed with Kitten, even singing lyrics she stole from another interviewee in order to impress. (She has a beautiful voice, which makes her unexplained inability to create her own tunes all the more tragic.) Her thirst to fill her empty existence with devious authenticity grows ever more extreme. It’s not hard to predict where this fixation will lead, but the journey is worth it. (Opens Friday, July 8 at Living Room Theatres)
crazy god: Legendary special effects guru Phil Tippett (star wars, jurassic park, Robotcop) started working on this magnum opus decades ago, and now he’s released it to an unsuspecting world. Predictably, it’s a surprisingly lively, dialogue-free cavalcade of stop-motion animation, with a few live-action roles (including my buddy Alex Cox). not expect is that this is a relentless tour through an unforgiving hellscape through which a lone character, dressed much like a WWI soldier, wanders on some kind of undefined mission .
The grotesques on display are visceral, fecal and monstrous, and the score only adds to the perception of dread and disgust. It’s kind of like an unrated version of an 85-minute Tool video. Or the stuff the Quay Brothers only show their therapists. The only comparable, frightening stop-motion masterpiece I can compare it to is Jan Svankmajer’s. Alice. All this to say that, for those willing to put themselves to the test, crazy god will be hard to forget. (Performed at the Hollywood Theater and available to stream at shudder.com)
Mr. Malcolm’s List: This toothless take on an Austen-esque romantic comedy is set in post-racial 1818 England, where the wealthy and titular Mister (Sope Dirisu) has composed a list of qualities he insists on in a potential bride. After humiliating her on a date at the theater (by revealing her ignorance of corn laws, you boob!), would-be suitor Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) sets out for revenge after acquiring a copy of the Malcolm’s list.
It involves making his childhood friend Selina (Frieda Pinto) Malcolm’s ideal mate by subterfuge, in order to break his heart by refusing his possible offer of marriage. Things are only slightly complicated by the presence of a dashing military officer (Theo James) who threatens to distract Selina from the game.
What could have been a brutal dismantling of antiquated ideas about romance and courtship instead settles for conforming to bland platitudes and immemorial characterizations. It’s odd that a movie that embraces a racially neutral cast in this way would back away from other substantial, progressive takes. (Opens Friday, July 1 at Regal Fox Tower and other area theaters)