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Fine Choices for Home Entertainment

George Wolf George Wolf Fine Choices for Home EntertainmentPhoto via IMDb
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Another week, another wild search for entertainment. We are here to help! You still have the weekend to check out the Columbus International Film + Animation Festival, for instance. And you should definitely get into the habit of checking out Gateway Film Center, Wexner Center for the Arts and Drexel Theatre websites for their streaming options.

Here’s what we found in new home entertainment.

Santiago, Italia

by Hope Madden

Playing virtually at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

History repeats itself. This often frustrating, even tragic theme has powered many films and documentaries over the years, including Nanni Moretti’s Santiago, Italia.  

An account of Chile’s 1973 military coup, Santiago, Italia approaches its history with a fascinating, character-driven approach. An opening news footage montage sets the stage—no timeline or voiceover narration details events for you.

The people of Chile democratically elect a socialist president. Chileans are excited and hopeful. Big business and the military are not. Planes fly low over the city. Bombs drop. Hope turns to terror.

Moretti, six-time nominee and 2001 winner of the Palme d’Or, isn’t exactly known as a documentarian. His instincts as a storyteller supersede, even complement, his disregard for the standard practice of documentary. The result is a slice of global, political, human life that bristles with passion and indignation.

Moretti’s main characters are a handful of Chilean exiles, persecuted and, in several cases, tortured for their political views and later exiled to Italy. As moving as it is to see emotion sneak up on someone remembering a moment now nearly fifty years old, witnessing someone recount their own torture with such a clear eye and lack of emotion is even more unsettling.

The filmmaker spends time with former military as well. Among others, he interviews imprisoned war criminal Raul Iturriaga, who believes the two sides should just forgive and forget. Irked at the direction the interview takes, Iturriaga challenges Moretti’s impartiality.

Moretti corrects him.

“Yo no soy imparcial.”  

And why should he be? With Santiago, Italy, Moretti recounts a story of two countries bound by a common desire for freedom from tyranny. As he sees that history replay itself once again, he believes that this is a story that bears repeating.

Grade: A-

Selah and the Spades

by Brandon Thomas

Available on Amazon Prime.

High school has always been ripe for depiction on the silver screen. The drama, comedy, absurdness and horror of social structures and adolescence has gifted us classics like Carrie, The Breakfast Club and Heathers. While Selah and the Spades might not exist in the upper echelon of high school cinema, it is a strong newcomer in its own right.

At Haldwell School, five factions run the elicit world of parties, alcohol and drugs. The most powerful of them, The Spades, is led by Queen Bee, Selah (Lovie Simone). Selah and her second in command, Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome of Moonlight), rule Haldwell’s underground with an iron first. Selah’s facade of cool, calm and collected begins to wane as she tests a potential replacement (Celeste O’Connor), and as she hears rumblings of a potential snitch.

Writer-director Tayarisha Poe jams a lot of style into her debut feature. The camera work is methodical and at times dreamy. The soundtrack, like any good high school mix, is wonderfully eclectic: jazz band cuts to modern pop sounds with a dash of Bing Crosby. Tonally, the film is reminiscent of Rian Johnson’s Brick. While that film did deal with life or death through a delightfully hip noir tale, Selah is content to revel in the cool without being bothered by plot. 

Dangling story threads of “What if…” pepper throughout Selah and the Spades. Most interesting being the almost brushed aside story of Selah’s former protege, and the incident she vehemently refuses to discuss. The brief glimpse of vulnerability in Selah’s character comes in a singular scene where we see her home life, and the pressure from her mother that has undoubtedly molded her into the emotional grifter she is now.

When the main character’s name is in the title, you better make sure that character delivers, and Simone commands the screen with a kaleidoscope of emotions. Selah’s power comes from the ability to adapt her behavior for each situation. She can be cunning, trustworthy or vulnerable – depending on her need at that particular moment. The complexities of the character threaten to overshadow her humanity at times, but Poe’s terrific script and Simone’s complicated performance help maintain a line of empathy for Selah.

Through an ambitious and original sense of style and character, Selah and the Spades positions itself as a high school movie for more than just a high school audience.

Grade: B+

Butt Boy

by Matt Weiner

Available on most major streaming services.

A killer fixated on jamming people, animals and any other object not nailed down into his rectum. The grieving detective haunted by loss and obsessed with hunting him down. Every now and then a movie comes along that seems to exist as much as an inside dare as it does to mock the complaint that there’s no original IP anymore.

If the title wasn’t ample enough warning, Butt Boy is that kind of movie. And just about every demented minute of it is a heady joy to watch. Add this to the list of sentences I wasn’t really expecting to write before going into the Butt Boy movie, but beneath the high-concept plot and anal absurdity you’ll find a pretty decent send-up of a “tortured detective” action film.

Detective Russel Fox (Tyler Rice) gets assigned the case of a missing child, his main suspect seems to have made his victim disappear into thin air in a public, crowded place. That’s because mild-mannered IT drone Chip Gutchell (Tyler Cornack, who also co-wrote and directed) does have a way of making his victims – also remote controls, beloved family pets, you name it ­– vanish without a trace. Up his butt.

In focusing on Russel and a cop noir send-up, Cornack’s script ends up being more satirical than disturbing. If anything, it would’ve been an interesting experiment to see the movie fully embrace the horror of its conceit rather than leavening it with self-referential absurdity.

Or maybe not – Butt Boy is likely a hard enough sell. The cast all do a fine job helping to sell it with deadpan line deliveries. And Cornack pulls out all the stops for a conclusion that trades on all the detective noir clichés while still managing to be truly shocking.

There’s a cosmic irony that it’s been quite a year for delirious, genre-bending movies, including Joe Begos’s VFW, and Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space. Now, we’re all stuck home for yet another uninhibited midnight movie that begs to be seen with a crowd of stoned fellow travelers who know this was made with love for people like them.

The fact that life had a different kind of horror planned shouldn’t keep you from the giddy escapism of Butt Boy, no matter how much smaller that ass will now loom on the home screen.

Grade: A-

Endings, Beginnings

by George Wolf

Available on demand.

When does the guise of self-discovery collapse under the reality of self-absorption? Endings, Beginnings unwittingly toes that line for most of its running time, ultimately rescued by the sheer earnestness of its lead performance.

Shailene Woodley shines as Daphne, an aspiring artist who’s living in her sister’s LA pool house after quitting her job and longtime boyfriend to go find herself.

But first, she finds Frank (Sebastian Stan) and Jack (Jamie Dornan), two good friends who don’t try very hard not to let Daphne come between them. Frank’s the impulsive bad boy and Jack’s the reliable good guy, with Daphne bouncing between them while the film pretends it’s because the two men see her differently.

It’s Daphne who sees herself differently, and her inability to choose is just one of the ways Daphne’s newly-stated goal of doing good for others rings with as much authenticity as her winning the claw game at the arcade (really, she wins!).

Don’t get me wrong, an unlikeable protagonist can be more than okay, it can be a bold and challenging narrative choice. But here, director/co-writer Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) is desperate to sell us personal growth and “music to suffer to” playlists when all we keep seeing are excuses for selfishness.

The always reliable Woodley still manages to make Daphne an interesting train wreck. Her vulnerability and confusion at facing this premature midlife crisis does feel real, and Woodley elevates the film by making sure Daphne – likable or not – is a complex personality forgotten by a litany of romance fantasies.

The chemistry between Woodley, Stan and Dornan is solid, seemingly bolstered by improvisational trust amid Doremus’s abrupt cuts and flashback sketches.

Endings, Beginnings has all the parts of a consistently competent and watchable affair. But the resonant character study it aspires to be – much like the character itself – slips away simply from pretending to be something it’s not.

Grade: C+

Read more from Hope and George at MADDWOLF and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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