Category Archives: LGBT at Sundance 2015

“CALL ME LUCKY”— Meet Barry Crimmins

call me lucky

“Call Me Lucky”

Meet Barry Crimmins

Amos Lassen

Comedian and activist Barry Crimmins is a simple man with just two humble objectives in his life; “Overthrow the United States government and close the Catholic Church.”  Bobcat Goldthwait’s new documentary, “Call Me Lucky” is about both Crimmins’ invectives and from where they come.

Barry Crimmins hasn’t been afraid to add some substance to his stand-up comedy routine.  He was part of the Boston-area comedy boom in the ‘80s that brought about a new awareness of stand-up comedians that is still continuing.  He was a “ferocious performer who freely mixed politics” and he had to ability to teach us something while at the same time pissing others off. What we know now is that beneath the stage persona he was hiding a terrible secret. He eventually came forward and told the world that as a child he had been sexually abused and this opened a whole new chapter in his life. Crimmins became an advocate for children. He opened the doors so that the regulations and protocols of today could come into being. His mission and his goal in life became sparing children from the pain that he had felt and still feels.

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The first part of the film deals with Crimmins’ early career and how he impacted the comedy scene in Boston. We see a stream of stand up comedians of that era including Steven Wright, Kevin Meaney, Lenny Clarke, and Goldthwait himself, as they reminisce about the impact Crimmins had on them.  One comedian said that” Barry was like a combination of Noam Chomsky and Bluto from Popeye”. He took care of other comedians and encouraged them to take chances and experiment with their personal styles.  We sense the love they feel for him. The love and respect they feel for him and Goldthwait amplifies this by keeping things fast-paced and funny. 

The second half of the film is totally different and director Goldthwait was very clever with the transition. He allowed us to bond with Crimmins in the first half by telling us all about him and so now we are ready for more. We continue to laugh but from a darker place. Crimmins knew this and so he channeled his anger and rage into an assault that is filled with humor.

What we have is a documentary that looks thin on the surface but that becomes remarkably perceptive about the human condition.  Goldthwait explores Crimmins’ tempestuous behavior, his impassioned rants about power-structures and the state of America, rants that cost him a career in comedy and the patience of most his friends. But people still love the man and that’s because he speaks the truth no matter what the circumstance.

Goldthwait allows Crimmins tell his own story on his own terms and he leads us into his life, leading us by the nose into his scarred but triumphant existence.

“DOPE”— Coming of Age, Post Hip Hop

dope

“Dope”

Coming of Age, Post Hip Hop

Amos Lassen

Malcolm, a high school senior, is a nerd and he is living in a rough part of Inglewood, California that is known as “The Bottoms.” There are gangsters and drug dealers everywhere and Malcolm is trying to deal with college applications, the SAT and college interviews. One evening he is invited to an underground party that takes him on adventure that could change his life forever.

A coming of age comedy/drama for the post hip hop generation. Malcolm is a geek, carefully surviving life in The Bottoms, a tough neighborhood in Inglewood, CA filled gangsters and drugs dealers, while juggling his senior year of college applications, interviews and the SAT. His dream is to attend Harvard. A chance invitation to a big underground party leads Malcolm and his friends into a, only in Los Angeles, gritty adventure filed with offbeat characters and bad choices. If Malcolm can persevere, he’ll go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.

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Malcolm and two best friends Jib and Diggy, despite living among poor people love BMX biking, classic ‘90s hip-hop culture, getting good grades at school, playing in their own punk band, and being all-round geeks. These activities are regarded by others as those for just white people. Because of this, going to school means being picked on and bullied.

Dom is their great tormentor and one day he tells Malcolm that he must be the go-between between himself and Nakia, the girl he wants for his very own but who does not seem to be interested. Dom thinks that perhaps if someone innocent like Malcolm delivers his messages to her, she will be more likely to pay attention to him. He is right about that but there is a snag in that—Nakia and Malcolm become interested in each other.

 Both Nakia and Malcolm get invitations to Dom’s birthday celebration at club and a drug deal there goes bad that causes a gunfight between gangs. Malcolm helps Nakia to a safe place but what he does not know is that Dom stuck a stash of Ecstasy tablets into his backpack. Malcolm ends up in jail and charged with possession and there are also those who want to get the drugs from him because they are the rightful owner. Instead of going to interview that he was supposed to be at that would get him a place at Harvard, Malcolm and his friends are on the run.

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 The film moves quickly as it wonderfully captures the energy and the way that street-wise urban kids live.Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa brings together a relatively unknown multi-racial cast of actors, rappers, dancers and models to give us a compelling glimpse of “an edgier underground online life that most of us are unaware even exists and a slice of life of a neighborhood that we would probably never visit.” This is set to a wonderful soundtrack that is a fine representation of hip hop culture and this is a comedy.

 “Dope” is unique and fresh, edgy and subversive. Shameik Moore is Malcolm and he gives a fine performance that is supported by his friends played by Tony Revolori as Jib and Kiersey Clemons as Diggy. Biting social commentary comes together with good filmmaking to give us a film that is near perfection and it makes no difference who you are and what kind of music you like, this is a film about being oneself and not allowing stereotypes to become the rule.

 

“TAKE ME TO THE RIVER”— A Long-Buried Family Secret

take me to the river

“Take Me to the River”

A Long-Buried Family Secret

Amos Lassen

Matt Sobel’s first feature is absolutely fascinating. It is the story of a gay teenager Ryder (Logan Miller) who is out to his free-thinking, California parents—but not to the backwater Nebraskan extended family he’s about to meet. He comes dress to the reunion wearing yellow wayfarers, a deep V-neck and red short shorts and we see immediately that he does not fit in with his redneck relatives, and especially not with his uncle (Josh Hamilton), the beady-eyed family patriarch who always seems upset about something.

During the picnic that turns highly dysfunctional, Molly (Ursula Parker), Ryder’s 9 year-old-cousin takes a liking to him and his drawings. The young girls of the family love Ryder. This just exacerbates the Nebraska family’s freakish perception of him. It is not long before Ryder finds himself the target of a witch-hunt and is exiled to an abandoned cottage on the family’s property. This is not clearly explored in the script so we do not know if Ryder did or did not molest her. As night falls Ryder goes to the rundown and remote guesthouse and when he awakens the next day he is thrown into something of a whirlpool of Kafkaesque misunderstandings and strange interactions with his family. His mother (Robin Weigert) who once doted on him now mysteriously uses a southern dialect and speaks about alfalfa against the sunset and using out-of-character idioms like “pop” for soda and “supper” for dinner. She seems to have lost sanity and her behavior is not human. We learn that there are long hidden family secrets afoot, but we do not learn what they are about. There is a sense of dread but we do not know why. Sobel has polarized his audience and when we reach the final third of the film there are more questions than answers.

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Secrets and denial have serious consequences in “Take Me to the River” and even though this film is set in Nebraska, this familiar problem is certainly not limited to Cornhuskers or Midwesterners. There are some things that need to be discussed and explained openly, especially among family, no matter how uncomfortable or painful. Pretending everything is normal simply does not make the secret disappear. The longer these secrets are there and grow, the worse the eventual impact will be. Whether the motivation is self-preservation or to protect others, running away is never a viable solution.

Sobel’s leaves important details up to the viewer’s imagination, allowing us to come to our own conclusions. When the closing credits appear, it is still unclear as to what just happened, which is precisely how Ryder must feel as he drives away with his parents.

The film certainly presents a potent blend of puberty, sexuality and conservative values and the story represents a seminal moment in Ryder’s coming-of-age, which could be interpreted as a baptism into adulthood; though rather than being cleansed with water, Ryder ends up with mud on his chest.

Sobel’s observations have a personal edge– the film is shot partly on his own extended family’s Nebraskan property as it builds to a place of nightmarish psychosexual revelations. Ryder wants to proudly assert his sexual identity but his mother is more aware of her family’s conservatism and it is her preference for Ryder to conceal his sexuality for his own protection. The complicated bond between mother and her only son is a very compelling central element of the story that is touchingly and sensitively portrayed by Weigert’s intuitive performance.

The family dynamics are an interesting contrast of generational values, in part due to the ensemble cast. The movie deals in open secrets, implications, and unsettling histories; a sense of alienation haunts virtually every scene. The film is hypnotic even when not much happens. Sobel manages to penetrate Ryder’s interior state with constant focus. We watch, we observe and we go to the reunion that becomes an emotional disaster as the film presents a new perspective on family secrets.

 

“THE D TRAIN”— Class Reunion

the d train

“The D Train”

Class Reunion

Amos Lassen

With his 20th reunion looming, Dan feels his high school insecurities. In hope to prove he’s changed, he rekindles a friendship with the popular guy from his class and is left scrambling to protect more than just his reputation when a wild night takes an unexpected turn.

One of the new trends in film lately has been what are referred to as “bromances” but “The D Train” takes the theme to a whole new level. Dan Landsman (Black) is one of those guys who just tries too hard, and it really gets on the nerves of most people, especially those on the high school alumni committee who are having trouble rounding up people to attend the 20-year reunion. Dan keeps giving himself nicknames like D-Fresh, and is controlling with the high school reunion’s Facebook page password. Things like that atop the old gang from inviting him out for drinks. His wife (Kathryn Hahn) clearly feels sorry for him, because his lack of confidence and social life has turned him into a poor source of inspiration for their teenage son.

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But Landsman has a plan that will make him a hero in the eyes of his peers when he notices that former classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) is in a Banana Boat suntan lotion commercial. Immediately thinking Lawless is a Hollywood hotshot, he believes if Lawless attends the reunion, it will get the rest of the class on board. Dan makes up a fake business deal to get his old-fashioned technological impaired boss Bill (Jeffrey Tambor) to let him go to California, just so he can convince Lawless to go to the reunion.

The real comedy starts with Bill accompanying Dan on the fake business trip at the last minute and we become immediately aware of just how poor and destructive of a plan D-Money has crafted. Black makes for the perfect ingratiating townie while Marsden steals the movie as just the right amount of Hollywood schnook. He is not really a successful actor— he lives in a dumpy one bedroom apartment and even though the fake plan that results in Lawless posing as an interested business partner is funny on its own, the surprising development of Dan and Lawless’ relationship is what takes movie so much fun.

After a night of partying in Los Angeles, which includes heavy drinking and some cocaine and weed, Dan crashes at Lawless’ place, where the two end the night with a surprising hook up, complete with an intense make out session. Let me be clear, it’s not the thought of two guys making out that brings a fit of laughter, but the best Marsden ripping open Black’s shirt, revealing his beer belly and kissing him passionately. The characters and actors themselves are totally mismatched on a number of levels; so seeing them in this romantic fashion is outrageous and funny as hell.

It is from this point that everyday’s really goes wild and even though the film does become silly in parts it is never slapstick and there are no cheap laughs. Sexual double entendres are used sparingly and to great effect, but honestly, what keeps the film on the rails is Marsden who never goes over-the-top, and keeps everyone else’s feet on the ground, even Black, who occasionally borders on taking his character to a caricature level of acting.

Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel make their directing debut from their own script. This is a comedy that is just fun.