Monday, May 26, 2014

Un Chien Andalou - 1929

"Un Chien Andalou" - 1929
Dir. by Luis Bunuel - 21 min.

Full Movie

by Clayton Hollifield

"Un Chien Andalou" is a film that you should probably see.  From what I have gathered, it's historically important (one of the earliest examples of surrealist filmmaking), made by historically important artists (director Luis Bunuel and co-writer Salvador Dali), and it's full of prime weirdness.  And it's only twenty-one minutes long (or sixteen - I couldn't quite figure it out, and just watched the longer version, which is the hazard of relying on YouTube to watch something; there's nothing that just flat-out says "this is the official version"), so it's not like you're mortgaging your life on whether or not this is entertaining, or at least interesting .

This isn't really a "plot" kind of movie, so there's not much point in getting into all of that.  It's a silent film, albeit with a score (again, at least the version I watched), so the draw of "Un Chien Andalou" is a series of unusual and unsettling visuals.  I guess the only fair way to judge this by whether or not it still packs a punch, close to a century after being made.  I'd have to say it does - there's a famous eyeball-related scene, and that's pretty gruesome.  But that's hardly the only thing within that might inhabit your nightmares for a few days.  And I don't know what PETA's stance is on using dead animals within your movie; if they don't object to cheeseburgers being filmed, I'm not sure that what's on-screen here is any worse for the animals involved.

"Un Chien Andalou" is tough to talk about.  Part of the effectiveness of the film relies upon shock value and upsetting images, and it's such a short piece of unconventional work that discussion of things like acting or filmmaking technique or the effectiveness of it's plot aren't meaningful.  If you like surrealism or just plain weirdness, cough up twenty minutes and dig in to "Un Chien Andalou."  It won't disappoint on that front, even if it's not as polished as later works in this vein, like anything by Alejandro Jodorowsky or Fellini.  But it's a sturdy foundation upon which later weirdness was built, and that makes it meaningful.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

Friday, May 23, 2014

Today's Special - 2009

"Today's Special" - 2009
Dir. by David Kaplan - 1 hr. 39 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I spent yesterday driving around in my car, running errands, and listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast.  The guest was Aasif Mandvi, whom I mainly know from his appearances on "The Daily Show."  At some point, Aasif mentioned "Today's Special" in passing, which I have had sitting in my Netflix queue for quite a while now.  So, last night seemed as good of a time as any to finally sit down and watch the movie.  I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, other than it's clearly a movie about Indian food (which is kind of enough to pique my interest anyways), but it ended up being more than that.

Samir (Aasif Mandvi) works as a sous chef at a fancy restaurant, and sees himself as being in line for a head chef job at a new restaurant that his chef is opening up.  When he gets passed over for being too rigid, he abruptly quits, and lies about having something lined up in Paris, but then decides that he must make it a reality.  When he returns home to tell his parents, Samir is forced to change his plans.  He ends up running his father's restaurant, Tandoori Palace, despite being fairly clueless about making Indian cuisine.

There's both a lot to unpack, and some fairly common indie film ideas in "Today's Special."  The grind between parent and child regarding a child's choice of work is not uncommon, but it's fertile ground.  It's also not an issue specific to immigrant families.  I think that this notion pops up fairly frequently in indie films because the idea of pursuing a creative career is a life-long, sometimes thankless battle, and it's a struggle that filmmakers on the fringe of their industry can fully understand, and find their own wrinkles to explore.  But the very notion of having the option to choose what line of work to pursue would be considered an extreme luxury by the vast majority of people in the world.  When one's parents come from a situation where that is the case, whether by nationality or by virtue of their financial status, watching someone choose something and failing at it can seem foolhardy.

One of the bigger issues in "Today's Special" is watching Samir reject his heritage and tradition, to be met with failure.  It's not incongruous to see anyone working in a French kitchen, but when Samir asserts to a cabbie (who goes on to play a much bigger role in the story) that he never cooks Indian, it becomes a retroactive personal rejection of his parents and his culture when we later learn that Samir's family runs an Indian restaurant.  It's a deliberate choice to cut himself off from his roots, and while he has managed to cultivate a degree of competency in his career, he's also stymied by his lack of passion and willingness to experiment.  It suggests the character is looking in the wrong direction; while Samir dreams of heading to Paris to learn from the best, he ends up learning more from the people around him, and by reconnecting with his family.

One of the principal joys of "Today's Special" is getting lost in a film that's not populated with many familiar faces.  Sure, Aasif Mandvi is familiar, and there are a couple of small roles for Kevin Corrigan and Dean Winters (you'll know their faces when you see them), but I haven't watched a ton of Indian cinema.  This was the first time that I've seen Naseeruddin Shah in anything, who plays the cabbie/chef Akbar, in anything at all, and his presence and charisma and warmth are so staggering that it seems like a huge oversight, both on my part, and on the part of Hollywood in general.  The idea that I couldn't have accidentally run across him in something over the years is bizarre, especially because a little web-sleuthing reveals that he's kind of a big deal in Indian cinema.  Also, Samir's parents, played by Madhur Jaffrey and Harish Patel, are fun and lively.  And on top of that, the food looks so delicious that I was kind of mad that I watched the movie in the middle of the night, with no outlet for my sudden cravings for Indian food.

While the idea of a child trying to define himself separately from his parents' identities is not an unexplored concept, there's enough going on here that's different and unique to make this worth checking out.  If you haven't seen Aasif Mandvi anywhere but on "The Daily Show," you might be surprised that he's not only a good actor, but is also capable of delivering lines at a volume below an annoyed bellow!  And usually, you'd know that I was being held at gunpoint if I ever described anything being "warm-hearted" as a positive trait, but that's very much the case here, and it's an important part of this film's appeal.  Just be sure to watch "Today's Special" before your local take-out place closes for the night.  You're going to get frustrated if you finish watching and can't tear into some vindaloo and biryani right away.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We're the Millers - 2013

"We're the Millers" - 2013
Dir. by Rawson Marshall Thurber - 1 hr. 50 min.

Official Red Band Trailer #2

by Clayton Hollifield

Sometimes, all I want is a dirty comedy that's halfway as funny as the concept initially sounds, to blow a couple of hours laughing, to distract me from whatever I need distracting from.  "We're the Millers" is a movie that I had intended to catch in the theatres when it came around, it seemed like a good bet to deliver what I wanted out of it.  Both Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis have been good in these kinds of movies (like "Horrible Bosses," for instance), and the idea of a bunch of scumbags dressing up like dorks to pull off some serious felonious crime is solid enough.  I mean, you know that main characters are scumbags, and no matter how hard they try, they're not going to be able to completely fly under the radar.

David (Jason Sudeikis) is a low-level pot dealer in Denver, but a neighbor, Kenny (Will Pouter), decides to play hero for a street girl, Casey (Emma Roberts), which ends up with David getting beaten up and robbed of his supply and a significant amount of cash.  This leaves David with a problem: a lot of that money belonged to his boss, Brad (Ed Helms).  Brad proposes a solution; David can go down to Mexico and bring back a smidge and an a half of pot across the border.  For that, Brad will forgive the debt, plus pay David $100k.  David isn't down with that idea, but doesn't have a choice in the matter.  His plan, pretend to be a family of dorks on vacation in an RV, which will surely fly under everyone's radar.  David wrangles Casey and Kenny in on the plan, and has to convince a stripper that lives in his apartment building, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), to play his wife and take a little trip down to Mexico.

First up, the R-rating for "We're the Millers" is mostly due to language, and probably because there's a lot of drugs around in the movie (although no one seems to ever smoke any of mountains of weed that are laying around).  If you were hoping that it meant you were going to get to see Jennifer Aniston and her friends, you're out of luck (although she does have a nice strip-tease scene).  It's important to set your expectations at the right level.  This isn't really a gross-out comedy (like a Farrelly Bros movie), and there's not really any kind of hedonism on display, aside from a couple of scenes with another couple, played by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn, which are funny mostly because of their tameness.  Much of the humor comes from how naturally the characters fall into their roles, as if the notion of an average American family is imprinted upon everyone, and slips on like a comfortable sweatshirt.  And there's a lot of sotto voce swearing, of course.

Really, the reason why this movie is pretty watchable and pretty funny is because there's a built-in structure (the need to move the RV from one place to another in an certain amount of time), and because the actors are good, and appropriate for their respective roles, and there's enough difference between them to allow for some natural friction.  And the actors involved generally do a good job.  There's a level of perverse fun in watching Jennifer Aniston be dirty after like a decade in sit-com land (and at an omnipresent amount of fame, as well) - there's a fantastic gag-reel bit in the credits involving the "Friends" theme song that had me laughing as hard as anything else in the movie.  Sudeikis probably isn't an asshole in real life, but he plays one well.  Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn are really good as the over-sharing couple that David and Rose can't seem to get away from.

Frequently, when I see a trailer for a comedy that seems like it's going to be okay, I end up being underwhelmed by the finished product.  The batting average seems even lower when we're talking about R-rated comedies.  Maybe people think that some swearing and maybe a flash of flesh is enough to justify $10 at the box office, but I don't usually leave the theatre feeling that way.  "We're the Millers" isn't a world-changing, all-time-great comedy, but it's at least as good as I thought it was going to be, and that's a victory in itself.

3 / 5 - TV (HD)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune - 2013

"Jodorowsky's Dune" - 2013
Dir. by Frank Pavich - 1 hr. 30 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

In film history, some of the craziest films ever made were made in the late 1960s and 1970s.  That might even be an understatement.  What "Jodorowsky's Dune" is about is a film that was designed to be revolutionary, by a director that no one would trust with this material and the required budget to film it.  That's right, this is a movie about the movie that Hollywood collectively drew the line in front of, a grand "what could have been" that not only shares a wealth of staggeringly inventive concept art, and the storyboards that give a hint at what this version of "Dune" could have looked like, but also does it through the words of Alejandro Jodorowsky, as well as others who were involved in the development of the film.

Straight off, Jodorowsky says that his intent was to make a film that would be like the experience of taking LSD, a film that would radically alter the thought processes of the youth of the world.  After a series of successful cult films (like "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain"), Jodorowsky decided to get ambitious.  The goal was to adapt "Dune" (well, not really adapt, as Jodorowsky explains - it was definitely going to be his version).  So he tracked down his "warriors," the development team that would turn his ideas into reality.  This included artists like Jean "Moebus" Giraud, Dan O'Bannon, Chris Foss, and H.R. Giger, which is a murderer's row, if you know anything about artists.  Jodorowsky set about lining up his cast, which included people like Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, and Orson Welles.  And when it was time to move past concept and to start making this a reality...

There is a book featured in this movie, the book that Jodorowsky and his producer, Michel Seydoux, used to pitch this project to Hollywood studios.  This book has complete storyboards by Moebius, concept art by the various artists that contributed.  It's a hefty, thick book.  It's a book that I'd literally punch the Pope in the crotch to spend five minutes flipping through.  There are supposedly only two of them in existence.  I find it hard to believe anyone who would have even mild interest in "Dune," as made by Alejandro Jodorowsky, wouldn't love to see first hand.  But as much as that book is the totem of all of the ideas behind this project, the key to "Jodorowsky's Dune" is the lengthy interviews with Jodorowsky himself.  He's a force of nature, a natural antagonist and a deep thinker.  He's also the guy who said, "Most directors make films with their eyes, I make films with my testicles."  He's a charismatic madman, and one who gets things done.  It's impossible to get the idea of what his version of "Dune" would have been like without spending some cinematic time with him.

There are other people interviewed here, as well.  Unfortunately, Giraud passed away in 2012, and there's nothing from him in any form here.  Dan O'Bannon, who would go on to create "Alien," passed away in 2009, but there is an audio interview and letters that he wrote to his wife included here.  H.R. Giger, the concept artist for "Alien," is interviewed specifically for this film.  Probably the biggest function of these interviews, and O'Bannon's words in particular, is to show that Jodorowsky carried himself pretty much exactly like he claims he did.  The picture that he paints of Jodorowsky jibes with Jodorowsky's persona, and of his fantastic stories about trying to convince various actors to be in the films.  You might think they're all bogus, or slightly inflated, but when you get the other perspectives, it all falls into line.

You might wonder what happened to the one guy that Hollywood deemed to be too far out there; that's one hell of a distinction.  That's a complicated question, and not one that's addressed specifically.  Putting together an ambitious project the likes of which had never been seen before, and then not being able to see it come to fruition can be devastating.  But Jodorowsky didn't stop, even if he didn't continue on making films at a very prolific clip.

"Jodorowsky's Dune" is a fascinating look at a film that was designed to change history.  It was to be a big-budget sci-fi film before "Star Wars," a film about crazy big ideas, executed in the most stunning, flamboyant manner possible.  Instead of that, we get this film, which is not only about trying to create art, but the frustration of trying to create art in something that's a fundamentally capitalist environment.  There's enough in the original ideas, and in the words of Jodorowsky to get across what could have been.  When you look at what some of the people involved in the development of his version of "Dune" did with their careers, it's clear that this work influenced film heavily, even though this project doesn't exist in it's intended fashion.  And Jodorowsky's own perspective is fascinating (and very human).  All of this adds up to a spellbinding movie (even if it's this one, and not "Dune"), a great "what-if" tale, and must-see documentary.

4.5 / 5 - Theatre

Monday, May 12, 2014

5 Against the House - 1955

"5 Against the House" - 1955
Dir. by Phil Karlson - 1 hr. 24 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I'm as weak and powerless against the allure of a beautiful woman as anyone; I DVR'd "5 Against the House" movie on the sole basis of Kim Novak being in it, and that the description of the plot sounded pretty decent.  You can only scowl at me if you've never been guilty of something similar.

That's what I thought.

So, she's not exactly the star, but she's in in plenty, and as it turned out, this film was a lot better than I was hoping for.  I sometimes get surprised when an older film will take a fairly intense turn; it's not that I expect them all to just be fluff, but there's always a consideration that older films are much less concerned with grittiness and "reality" than some more modern ones.  "5 Against the House" starts off as fluff, but doesn't stay there, and it's a pretty fun ride along the way.

Four college students/Korean War vets decide to hit up Reno before the school year starts, with an agreement that they've all got an hour to do whatever they're going to do, then back on the road.  Brick (Brian Keith) seduces a woman at the roulette table, Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews), the rich kid, has blown his wad gambling and has to cash a check for some walking around money, when Roy and Ronnie are mistakenly thought to be included in an armed robbery by the guy in front of them in line at the cashier's.  Al (Guy Madison) clears them before the police can haul Roy and Ronnie off, but not before one of the security guards can brag about the casino being unbeatable, in terms of a heist.  All four of them return to school (the Korean Vet thing explaining why they all appear to be in their 30's), but the security guard's boast has placed an idea in Ronnie's head.  Or maybe more accurately, what he considers a challenge.

"5 Against the House" is a relatively short film, but because it covers so much ground, it feels like a dense movie (although not one that's difficult to get through).  At first, it comes off like a lame college comedy.  Granted, there's a sense of camaraderie between the fellas, but the dialogue and attempts at banter haven't aged particularly well.  Plus, the gang engages in the time-honored tradition of hazing some poor frosh they all call Speaky, who's job seems to be to carry everyone's books, but I have no idea how he found the time to complete his own homework.  What's better is the attempt to quickly establish people's characters.  The initial casino trip goes pretty far, as does seeing how each of the guys stands with whichever woman they were having a fling with when school ended at the previous year.  Brick is something of a ladies' man, intent on playing the field.  Roy hasn't gotten anywhere with anyone (he's the talky runt of the crew), Ronnie's too busy hatching perfect schemes to do anything else.  And Al, he's got a mystery date at a nightclub.  That's where Kaye (Kim Novak) comes in.  Our introduction to her comes via performance, as she's a sultry nightclub singer, which is a recent development.

"5 Against the House" shifts pretty quickly when Brick starts showing cracks in his smooth facade, blowing up at someone who's dating an old flame, and nearly murdering him with a broken bottle.  The next day, everyone's suffering from ennui (which they must've picked up while in Korea), and they declare the need for something new, something more exciting than a panty raid.  Ronnie's wheels start spinning, and he wants to try to rob the Reno casino, but purely in an academic sense.  He doesn't want to keep the money, therefore there being no harm, which the police would surely treat like a college prank.  But this is where the green-eyed devil shows up in Brick; he's been floundering at college in the law program, is barely keeping his act together, and desperately doesn't want to return to the VA, where they would lock him away in a padded cell.  The entire plan is put in motion, and things start getting a lot darker in this film.

 The second part of the film is dark, although since the ultimate goal is to pull off the heist in Reno, you kind of know that things aren't going to get really crazy.  But then again, being coerced into a felony by an armed madman is it's own kind of excitement.  A significant chunk of the film is spent in transit and with Al and Kaye having no idea what's going on.  When the reveal finally comes, Brick goes into full-batshit mode, and he's pretty convincing.  On the whole, the acting within the film is pretty decent.  I definitely could not have handled a full film of genial collegiate banter between the four vets, even with generous helpings of Kim Novak in nightgowns easing the ride.  But in retrospect, it's a good starting point from which the story can launch, and diverge.

And then there's the heist.  Part of what make a heist film fun is not only establishing the challenge, but also setting up ways that it could fail, and then the joy of watching something clever unfold.  This is an early example of a heist film (I don't have a list or anything, but it's a kind of story that would blossom later in film history), and it is fairly clever.  These kinds of movies depend heavily on time and place - deterring thieving morons is an ongoing and developing field.  Here, the challenge is issued, the potential pitfalls put into play, and then we get to sit back and watch, to see what exactly is going to happen.  The last act of this film is a lot of fun, more than ample payback for the silly college stuff.  Plus, there's a great laugh-out-loud moment with the casino employee that's been targeted.

In this instance, my love of seeing Kim Novak didn't lead me astray.  It led me to a surprisingly good, tightly-paced heist movie.  Plus, Kim Novak in nightgowns.  "5 Against the House" isn't a great film, it's a good one, and if you've enjoyed films like the "Ocean's 11" series, or maybe "The Thomas Crown Affair," this is a quality predecessor well worth the hour and a half run time.  I mean, don't you want to take a look at this?

Borrowed from Mike's Movie Projector

3 / 5 - TV (HD)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Fast and the Furious - 1955

"The Fast and the Furious" - 1955
Dir. by John Ireland and Edward Sampson - 1 hr. 13 min.

Full Movie

by Clayton Hollifield

There is literally no reason to watch "The Fast and the Furious."  Not even if you really liked the current Vin Diesel series of films.  Not even if you like fast cars, not if you think that a short movie will be easy to get through, no reason whatsoever.  You might suspect that it might be a lark, since you've seen all six F&F movies already over and over again, that you should watch the old film that the title originated from.  Don't do it.  Watching a car broken down on the side of the highway would be more entertaining.  A nice nap would do you some good.  Have you talked to your mother lately?  I bet she'd appreciate a phone call.

In a diner somewhere in SoCal, Connie (Dorothy Malone) pulls up in her Jaguar, and some fat dude named Faber (Bruce Carlisle) wants to help her with something, but she's not interested.  The talk of the diner is a murderer on the flee, a man who drove a truck driver off the road and to his mortal end.  As it so happens, Frank Webster (John Ireland) is dining, gets itchy when they start talking about him, bops Faber in the head, and kidnaps Connie.  They take off in her car, and they get really mad at each other until she gets Stockholm Syndrome, and he falls for her as well.  In the meantime, we discover that Connie is a race-car driver (hence the Jag), and that the race she was supposed to enter has decided to ban all women drivers, because of the dangerousness of the course.  But since the race ends in Mexico, coincidentally exactly where Frank is trying to get to, he ends up entering the race under an assumed identity.

If you're a fan of movies where the woman runs hot and cold until she finally gives into to her womanly desires (in this case, her desires apparently include being kidnapped and tied to stuff, and not being allowed to race because ovaries (even though the cars never even go that fast, and even if they did, the course is lined with hay bales, which we all know is state-of-the-art safety equipment)), still don't see "The Fast and the Furious."  There are like five actual characters in the movie, so the vast majority of the film is devoted to Frank and Connie, and there's no spark whatsoever between them.  It's not impossible to get away with making a movie that's not based on much more than the sexual tension between two people (I just watched "The Thomas Crown Affair," for crying out loud), or the appeal of some awesome cars.  But the stars had better be crackling with energy and attraction, and Ireland and Malone are no Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.

Similarly, if you were hoping that the cars would be awesome, and that there might be some nifty driving sequences, refer to my recommendation in the first paragraph of this review.  There's an antique race (which does have some cool looking super-old cars), but the main race is conducted with what appear to be roadsters.  That's fine, but there's nothing that outstanding about the vehicles, certainly nothing iconic.  On top of that, parts of the race are filmed on a soundstage, with footage of the other cars projected onto a screen behind the actual car.  And the one thing that could have been cool, a wreck at the end of the film, is actually a shot of a toy car on a model set, and then a cut back to the real car gently resting against a tree.

I don't expect awesomeness out of a Roger Corman movie, there's only so far that you can stretch no budget and a ten day shoot (according to Wikipedia).  But if you're stuck with no budget and poor technical abilities, you either need to go the full Ed Wood or get really clever.  Neither of those things happened.  And honestly, if Universal Studios hadn't bought the name to this film to use on a new series of car movies (and it is admittedly a pretty awesome title), probably no one would even be mildly curious about this film.  It would have been rightfully forgotten, existing only as proof that if you are determined enough, you don't need talent, budget, or ideas to cobble together a feature length film.  And that's a positive message for most.  Instead, the new batch of movies have shined a light on a dark, best-forgotten corner of film history, revealing something that doesn't hold up.

.5 / 5 - TV

Friday, May 2, 2014

Angus - 1995

"Angus" - 1995
Dir. by Patrick Read Johnson - 1 hr. 30 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"Angus" is one of the most underrated films of the '90s.  It might be remembered solely for it's soundtrack; aside from being a picture perfect portrait of 1995, it contains Green Day's first new song released after "Dookie" blew up and sold a bajillion copies.  There are a million reasons that people could dismiss it, chiefly that it's just another high school movie.  I'd argue that "Angus" nails the specific experience of being a high school outcast (without hiding behind the trappings of stylish nihilism or sarcasm or an ironic approach to sugarcoat the experience) so completely that someone dismissing it reveals a personal defect in one's humanity: the inability to understand the plight of others.  Which, conveniently, is also one of the themes of "Angus."

Angus (Charlie Talbert) is not one of the popular kids in school.  He's overweight, quick to lose his temper when he's inevitably mocked about it, hopelessly in love with a cheerleader, Melissa Lefevre (Ariana Richards) he's never even spoken to.  He's good at science, but plays football because he's big and agile enough to protect the more popular kids, like quarterback Rick Sanford (James Van Der Beek), who coincidentally is dating that cheerleader, but never gets any recognition for doing anything good.  A glimmer of hope arrives: Angus gets an interview for admittance to a science magnet school.  And at the same time, Rick and his buddies decide to play a cruel prank on Angus: they rig the vote for an upcoming dance so that Angus is voted Homecoming King, opposite Melissa, which the entire school knows is a mockery designed to humiliate Angus.

For something that's superficially another teenage outcast film, there is an incredible amount going on here.  One of the film's strengths is it's cast, where the parents aren't just generic figures with nothing to do.  Angus' single mom is played by Kathy Bates, and his soon-to-be-married to a much younger woman grandfather who lives under the same roof is played by George C. Scott.  And while they're doing their best to help out Angus, they do have their own things that they're concerned about.  This was also the first film for star Charlie Talbert and James Van Der Beek, who pulls off the arrogant poofy-haired football star/bully with a sense of entitlement that's menacing on it's own.  Even Angus' little buddy, Troy (Chris Owen), was played by The Sherminator from the "American Pie" series.  Granted, most of these people were chosen for fitting a certain look, but one of the things to the film's credit is that they don't cast a bunch of twenty-five year-old gym rats, and try to pass them off as high school kids.  In fact, I can't stop thinking that it was damned near a miracle that "Angus" got made with a star who was overweight.  There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong, and trying to convince audiences that a kid who was like five or ten pounds overweight was as troubled as Angus was (and that he'd be treated in the manner that he is over the course of the film) would have stretched credibility.

But let's get into the meat of the film.  Yes, it appears to be a comedic premise: fat kid loves the cheerleader, and gets mocked for it.  And there's certainly a number of people who wouldn't see Angus as the victim in this situation.  But nearly all the laughter from this film is going to be of the uncomfortable kind.  The point, years before challenging bullying became another way to get your face on TV, is that treating people that are a little different is not fucking okay.  There is a line in the film that sums up what every outcast learns the hard way: people will leave you alone if you're laughing along with them.  And in a social context, that's true.  But that doesn't account for what happens when that person is finally alone in their bedroom, with no one watching.  "Angus" doesn't shy away from that.  For instance, when Rick runs Angus' underwear up the flagpole for all to see, Angus is so horrified that he hides in the bushes until well after everyone's gone.  When Rick pushes Troy around to give him some dirt on Angus to embarrass him with, Troy capitulates, but only after Rick has literally broken Troy's arm (because Troy's possibly the smallest kid in school, and Rick is a jock without concern for his own behavior), then Troy lies about what happened.  This is the fact: these kids spend their entire days trying to avoid undue attention, knowing that whatever sticks out is going to cause them more than just grief, but deliberate humiliation and possibly injury.  And when you're the biggest kid in school, there's nowhere to hide.

And, as a kid who had to suffer through years of little league with jerseys three sizes too small (that would be me), watching scenes where Angus is trying vainly to fit into a black tuxedo, begging for a piece of normalcy to cling to, and instead being told that the only thing they have in his size is a purple (it's plum!) tux, well, it feels pretty damned familiar.  A lot of this film felt really, uncomfortably familiar.  The entire second act of "Angus" is brutal, and if you watch it and don't get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, then your high school experience was fundamentally pretty awesome.  For everyone else, it's one visceral humiliation after another, until the knockout blow finally comes (and it's a doozy).  There is a point to it all, and it's not simply to pile on an already-burdened character.  When Angus loses his temper, which happens a few times, he explicitly states, and is immediately contradicted, that people don't understand what he's going through.  Part of Angus' problems are that he's a target, but some of it is also that he's cutting himself off from everyone else.  You can see it in his body language; he's just too self-conscious to be able to pick up on what's going on around him.

The character's story arc is not just about getting to the dance to have his moment with Melissa, it's about being able to get out of his own head for a minute, and to get away from self-pity.  His grandfather tells him repeatedly that the only words to live by are "screw 'em," but Angus just wants to exist in peace.  He does eventually get there, but only after coming to terms with himself.  When he starts understanding the people around him, they open up to him a bit, and he finally starts to move past a self-centered approach into something more open and inclusive.  Everyone has problems.  Everyone.  Except Rick Sanford, who's just an asshole, and for no good reason.  And, to the film's credit, no cheap explanation is ever offered for Rick's behavior; some people are just constitutionally nasty, and no pop psychology diagnosis can change it.  But the film ends up with Angus in a better place mentally than he was, which is an achievement.

"Angus" is a really, really heavy movie.  Or maybe you were the quarterback, and don't understand what all the fuss is about.  But I found it a very difficult movie to deal with emotionally, because it nailed all the details of what it's like to be a weird kid in high school with nowhere to hide.  Beyond being a moving piece of fiction, it also confirmed to me that I made the right choice in avoiding my high school reunions - nostalgic hazes can't obscure the fact that nobody ever leaves high school emotionally, and there are some things that I'd rather not revisit.  I'm really glad that I re-watched "Angus," even if it was a rough experience.  Sometimes, we all need a reminder that our experiences aren't unique, no matter how heavy they may weigh us down, and that the world isn't out just to get each of us, specifically.  Also, the soundtrack really is completely awesome.  Especially that Green Day song...

Green Day - "J.A.R."

4.5 / 5 - TV (HD)