Tuesday, January 15

Fyre Fraud Review

Director: Jenner Furst & Julia Willoughby Nelson
Starring: Billy McFarland, Ja Rule & Seth Crossino
Hulu Original January 14, 2019

“You lost a box of keys to $2M worth of houses???”

The first shots of the year have been officially “fyred” by Hulu in the war of streaming superiority. And although I’m sure the giant, Netflix will survive, this particular shot hit its mark with perfect accuracy and force. In case you missed it, Netflix has been airing a trailer for their latest original documentary, FYRE: THE GREATEST PARTY THAT NEVER HAPPENED, set for release on Friday, the 18th. The film is about 2017’s failed exotic luxury music festival that eventually landed its founder, Billy McFarland a 6-year prison sentence for fraud. But yesterday, only 4 days before Netflix and without any fanfare or warning, in an act of beautiful disrespect to the streaming behemoth, Hulu dropped their own doc on the same subject matter. It’s very good.

The biggest thing that separates the Hulu doc from the Netflix film is the exclusive Billy McFarland interview. To be clear, this interview is not just a one-off tangential. It serves as the framing device for the entire story. He is a fascinating character and by the end of the film, you will likely be questioning your own judgement. He has a very specific charm. Early in the film, someone characterizes him as a “used car salesman”. I don’t find this to be a fair description at all. Used car salesmen don’t even come close to emoting the brand of apparent sincerity that McFarland seems to have mastered. 

The film seeks to marry today’s culture of social media “FOMO”, fake news and memes with the millennial generation’s susceptibility of con-artistry. The first 20 minutes or so are more or less dedicated to exploring the parallel journeys of Billy McFarland’s rising business ventures with the explosion of communication types and media. This new media age that we find ourselves in has created an entire new and lucrative industry out of little more than hype. Hype for hype’s sake that is created on the back of hype for the expressed purpose of
creating more hype…. And somehow, money falls out. The old man in me is screaming that this is not a sustainable business model. But then again, trendsetters, fashion icons and influencers like Kylie Jenner, Huda Kattan and Grumpy Cat don’t seem to be as concerned as I am with things like whether I have enough gas in my tank. Maybe I’m the one doing it wrong. And that’s it, this film seeks to explore how that insecurity can be exploited for grotesque monetary gains.

I’m marking down the film’s editing as a positive as well. Full of jump cuts to various memes and social media snapshots that do a great job capturing what was in reality, such a brief moment in time. It’s also full of pictures and video clips of McFarland and Ja Rule as they were planning the fated festival. Ja Rule decided not to be contribute to the documentary but unfortunately for him, that didn’t even come close to keeping him out of the film. He would have likely served himself much more by agreeing to be interviewed. At least he could have told his side of the story. In the age of instant, real-time documentation of a celebrity’s every move, it’s hard to claim any sort of plausible deniability after the dumpster “fyre” has already begun. It’s a bit of ironic poetic justice that the same mechanism that these people rely on for the majority of their wealth creation can so quickly be turned around to build an uncontrollable narrative about them.  

To be fair to Netflix, I don’t get screeners, so I have no idea how good their film is. It’s a great story and it’s in the hands of AMERICAN MOVIE and JIM & ANDY director, Chris Smith. I’m still a little interested in it but I think Hulu has sufficiently taken the wind out of its sails…. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine. It is one of 5 original films they are releasing on the same weekend.

Emery's Rating
4 out of 5 Stars

Friday, January 11

Stan & Ollie

Stan & Ollie

Dir: Jon S. Baird

Starring: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, and Danny Huston

“The Dance of the Cuckoos” was the signature tune that played before all the films of the classic Hollywood comedic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Their visual slapstick style has become the iconic calling card for the duo, but the team’s ability at crafting ingenious narrative setups is often overlooked. Stan Laurel, an Englishman, and Oliver Hardy, an American, worked on more than 100 collaborations, creating memorable and influential routines but also developing a lifelong dedication to their craft and ultimately a friendship that would last a lifetime.

The story begins in the summer of 1937, Laurel and Hardy are walking the backlots of the Hal Roach (Danny Huston) production “Way Out West”. They are Hollywood superstars at the peak of their career but their relationship with the studios, the dawn of a new era in filmmaking, and their complicated personal lives signal the beginning of the end for their companionship. 16 years progress and Laurel and Hardy are pushing through a tour in Newcastle and Glasgow looking for one final standing ovation for their comedy stylings. 

“Stan & Ollie”, directed by Jon S. Baird, takes a charming look at the later career of the two comedians. For fans of the comedy legends, the portrayal of Laurel and Hardy is impeccable. Steve Coogan gives a wonderful performance as Stan Laurel while John C. Reilly completely disappears, physically and emotionally, into the role of Oliver Hardy. It’s impressive how much detail was paid towards the routines and mannerisms of the duo, Mr. Coogan and Mr. Reilly absolutely nail the stage reenactments. 

The narrative composes an interesting character study that is greatly accommodated by the performances of Coogan and Reilly. Instead of focusing on the tedious nature of a traditional biopic structure, the film wisely takes the focus towards the latter days of the duo’s career. We get to see the years of resentment boil over, we see Hardy’s health decline with a heart condition that makes his performance on stage difficult, and we see Laurel’s frustration with letting go of the past and having to adapt to the inevitable future. This helps bring a melancholy sensibility to the typically joyous routines they performed. 

There are a few moments in the film that unnecessarily slow the pacing down, specifically when the film tries too hard to explain the complicated relationship of these two artists instead of trusting the performances which work so much better in showing the mix of emotions the pair are feeling as they realize that things will never be the same. Still, director Jon S. Baird does a fine job of turning a modest script into something much more genuine.

“Stan & Ollie” showcase the talent of a kind of comedy that has all but disappeared from the mainstream culture. While there are occasions when comedians will emulate a small piece of what these two iconic characters did so effortlessly, the style and grace of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are truly one of a kind. “Stan & Ollie”, with its impressive performances, honors the legacy of a unique craft founded by two comedy craftsmen.  

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Friday, January 4

And Breathe Normally Review

Director: Ísold Uggadóttir
Starring: Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Babetida Sadjo & Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson

AND BREATHE NORMALLY (Andið Eðlilega) is the Icelandic debut feature from Ísold Uggadóttir. But this isn’t the Iceland that most Americans imagine when we think of the picturesque island. It takes place in the industrial districts, shopping malls and shipping yards. The screen’s 2:35 ratio is filled by muted hues of the grayish blues and greens of the windswept landscapes and dilapidated structures.

We are introduced to Lára (Haraldsdóttir) a recovering addict and mother clinging to the edge of poverty by the string of government assistance when she is hired as a border security agent. The airport we see her working in is one of the few splashes of modernism as a set that we see. But her ends refuse to meet each other and very quickly, she and her young son (Pétursson) find themselves homeless and hungry, anxiously awaiting her first paycheck.

It’s in her first day of the job that we are introduced to Adja (Sadjo), a young woman seeking asylum from Guinea-Bissau. She is arrested at the checkpoint after attempting to use a fake passport on her way to Canada. It is in her story that we see more glimpses of an Iceland with a strong economy. The immigration courts and the offices of her case workers are looked at as a different world. She is quickly brought back down to Earth when she arrives at the temporary housing as she awaits her asylum case.

Both leads give powerful and convincing performances and together the contrast of the two personalities do well to balance the overall tone of the film. Lára’s frantic and manic paced movements and expressions are rudderless and at times, reckless. While Adja manages to face her fate with dignity and calm. And the way they eventually connect with each other over their similarities gives the relationship an equilibrium rather than a dichotomy.

The first half of this film is a rather interesting comparison of the two women’s somewhat parallel situations. Adja is risking her freedom in order to seek refuge from a country that persecutes those of her sexuality. Similarly, Lára is living as a refugee of her own economic situation. Both are holding their breaths, their destinies unknown and largely out of their control. I’m not completely sure what this contrast was supposed to be expressing or if it was fleshed out as well as it could have been. But, at least in the film’s first half, the trials and tribulations of our characters felt heavy and real.

It’s unfortunate however, that the halfway point is about when this film’s story begins to fall apart. The plot seems to heavily rely on outlandish coincidences in order to move forward. This happens in movies. A lot of films are just reasons to tell improbable and outlandish stories. But when this is done in a film that is clearly established in a gritty and realistic world, it tends to undercut its weight.

I’m going to end up a little more positive than negative for this film. For all of its flaws, it
was composed with the sure-hand that is not expected to be found in a first film. Its problems exist solely in its screenplay, and it likely could have been resolved with a few extra drafts. Its overall message is one of empathy and that’s something that we should be championing.

Emery's Rating
3 out of 5 Stars